NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teachers' Unions Backs Tenure

August 5, 1997

There was the case of a teacher who sat and drank coffee while reading the newspaper as students slept at their desks. Booting him out would not be easy, however, since that teacher -- like tens of thousands of others -- was tenured, and the process could take six to eight years. An effort to oust a tenured San Diego teacher took a decade and cost the school district nearly $500,000 in legal fees.

  • Tenure laws are a relic from the early part of the century, adopted to protect teaching jobs from political patronage or personal favoritism.
  • But increasingly states are reviewing the process of tenure and some are eliminating it, creating a system of rolling contracts for teachers or relying on peer-review processes.
  • Many more are streamlining the dismissal process by cutting the time allowed for appeals or by resolving cases through arbitration.
  • Even teachers' union officials who strongly support tenure admit that it is time to make it easier to oust incompetents -- many opting for peer-review programs.

Despite all the tinkering, most school districts throughout the United States remain daunted by the difficulty of discharging incompetent teachers. Many school administrators are skeptical of peer-review, fearing it would simply become a system of teachers scratching each others' backs. They also suspect unions are backing it in an effort simply to block further attacks on tenure.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "New Methods Tested in Response to Teachers Who Fail to Teach," New York Times, August 5, 1997.


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