NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Tenure on Trial

April 3, 2014

Last week marked the end of a two-month-long trial in California in response to a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit group Students Matter on behalf of nine public school students, says Stateline.

  • California's tenure laws are incredibly generous toward teachers.
  • After just 18 months on the job, teachers can be given permanent employment status, and firings are mainly based on seniority, not performance.
  • The plaintiffs charge that these tenure and layoff rules are hurting students: the rules leave so many ineffective teachers in classrooms that students -- often low-income and minority students -- do not receive the education guaranteed them by the state constitution.
  • It is the first lawsuit to charge that personnel policies are responsible for denying equal education opportunities.

Recently, several states have changed their tenure and dismissal rules.

  • North Carolina and South Dakota have ended their tenure systems, and Arizona has made firing poorly performing teachers an easier task.
  • Similarly, Connecticut has made it easier for schools to decline to renew teacher contracts.
  • Some districts have experimented with performance pay, and other states are linking tenure with teacher evaluations.

How should schools and districts evaluate their teachers? California is one of 10 states that does not use student achievement to evaluate their teachers. Some researchers say that is not a bad thing, because models to evaluate performance on such a basis can yield unreliable results due to too small of a sample size.

Eric Lerum, vice president of national policy for Students First, a student advocacy group, says that California's personnel policies are antiquated. "If we know what the importance and impact of a teacher is, we should be putting policies in place that allow us to get the best teachers in front of as many kids as possible."

Source: Adrienne Lu, "Teacher Tenure and Dismissal on Trial," Stateline, April 1, 2014.


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