Friday, August 5, 2011

Teacher tenure is under attack

No doubt about it, an orchestrated attack on teacher tenure is underway in Louisiana.

As previously reported in EdLog, a staff member of the Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana (A+PEL) is running for the state board of education on a platform of abolishing tenure. "We need to get rid of it as soon as we possibly can," says Holly Boffy, a former teacher of the year and A+PEL's director of professional development and university programs.

Then there's business bigshot Lane Grigsby, who promised financial support to candidates who will oppose teacher tenure.

Now comes this article by Advocate reporter Will Sentell, who lays out the basic argument that tenure opponents will use: Not enough teachers have been fired to suit them; therefore, tenure must be abolished.

Not surprisingly, the abolition of tenure is also being pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a corporate-dominated lobbying group that opposes worker rights and supports privatizing public services.

Sentell's article focuses on the fact that "only 52 tenured teachers were fired statewide in connection with their evaluations over a 10-year period starting in 2000."

LFT President Steve Monaghan sarcastically asked the reporter, “What would be the number I need in terminations that would make people think that the system is working?”

In all seriousness, we should hope that there would be few terminations of tenured teachers. Tenure ought to be considered a guarantee of teacher quality. Here's why.

In order to earn tenure, a teacher must have college degree and pass a rigorous national examination called Praxis. For the next three years, the teacher undergoes constant supervision and professional development. In those three years, a teacher can easily be terminated for any legitimate reason. It is the responsibility of administrators to ensure that teachers who make it through the process deserve tenure.

During that time, about half of all prospective teachers leave the profession. This weeding-out process is the real reason that so few tenured teachers are found to be incompetent.

Once it is earned, tenure is not a guarantee of lifetime employment. Teachers must still undergo regular professional development and periodic evaluations. Tenure merely guarantees that a teacher cannot be fired unless a fair process is followed.

In Sentell's article, one principal whines that tenure hearings are "tedious" and that "I felt like I was the person on trial."

Well, yes. The purpose of a tenure hearing is to determine the facts. If a principal alleges that a teacher is incompetent, the teacher has a right to question the accuser. Otherwise, we would return to the bad old, good-old-boy days when who a teacher knew was much more important that what a teacher knew and could bring to a classroom.

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