Teacher tenure reform (United States)

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Teacher tenure is a policy that restricts the ability to fire teachers, requiring a "just cause" rationale for firing.[1] The individual states each have established their own tenure systems.[2] Tenure provides teachers with protections by making it difficult to fire teachers who earn tenure. Many states are focusing on tenure reform. Revisions would be made so that the tenure system no longer functions the same way as the existing tenure system functions.[3]


Tenure has been a controversial issue for some time.[4] However, lately reforming or eliminating teacher tenure has become a pressing issue covered vastly by the media. Many politicians are actively voicing their opinions on tenure. Many states have new plans for their tenure system. There are many different reforms which are trying to be passed by legislation. It is hard to get reforms passed because one side of the debate must give up something every time a proposal is made. Some argue[who?] tenure is no longer necessary and that it is hurting America's education system. Others argue tenure provides vital protections for teachers. While each state has its own specifics for how teacher tenure works, most hold a similar form. Each new teacher is given a probation period (probation periods vary among states). During this probation period, teachers must prove they are worthy of receiving tenure. They must prove that they are having a positive effect on their students using a teacher evaluation system, which includes information from several facets of a teacher's responsibilities. Some common facets are classroom observations, student growth, and self-reflection (see, for example, New Haven [5] and the state of Virginia [6]).

Take a look at New Jersey's tenure system as an example. Currently under New Jersey's tenure system, a teacher is placed on probation for three years during which time the teacher is evaluated using a system called AchieveNJ.[7] During or after these three years, the principal must decide if the school will grant tenure to this teacher. If so, the teacher will be asked to work there for a fourth year and will be granted tenure. The principal is able to fire a teacher at any time during the probation period. However, once a teacher is tenured, the principal can no longer fire a teacher without just cause. The teacher is then protected by tenure. There are four reasons a teacher may be fired in New Jersey once they are tenured. The reasons include: incapacity, inefficiency, unbecoming conduct and just cause. A teacher being fired for any of these reasons is given a chance to defend their case.[2]


Tenure was created to provide teachers with protections. The exact beginning point of tenure is debatable. Many do not fully agree why or when tenure was created. From the very beginning, tenure was controversial. Some say the fight for these protections started around the 1920s. Women dominated the teaching profession at this time.[8] Massachusetts was the first state to introduce teacher tenure back in 1886, as the early beginnings of the progressive movement swept across the country. A long time ago, teachers were subject to rules which impeded on basic rights. For example, teachers were told what time they should be home, which activities they should engage in, who they could associate with, etc. Teachers were often fired for breaking these rules. Teachers came together to gain protections against such rules. They wanted their own rules which ensured they wouldn't be fired without reason. Teacher unions were not yet formed. They were in the process of being formed.[8] Others argue that tenure was started to protect professors from losing academic freedom. Wealthy industrialists started writing and undermining professors. Tenure was created to ensure professors would be able to write freely.[9] It angers many people that the reason why tenure was developed is not clear. There is no one event or exact time when tenure was created. Many argue there is no reason to keep a tenure system that had no real foundation for being started.

The debate[edit]

Pro tenure reform[edit]

Many states are looking into reforming and even eliminating their teacher tenure system. Some of the states leading the movement include Florida, New Jersey, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania.[10] Many[who?] argue that by granting teachers tenure, the education system is flooded with teachers who are no longer effective. Some argue[who?] that tenure grants teachers permanent positions regardless of whether or not they deserve a job. Many say because our education system is flooded with these ineffective teachers, students are suffering.[how?] Those who are pro reforming/eliminating tenure say having bad teachers in the education system is shortchanging too many children in American schools.[10] Supporters of reforming/eliminating tenure feel that tenure does nothing but protect "bad" teachers and hurt students. They believe that tenure is given out too readily in America. Teachers should receive tenure based on their effectiveness rather than how long they have been teaching. Many feel that the process to fire a teacher takes too much time and money. This side of the debate feels it should be easier to fire tenured teachers. Many would also like to see teachers being evaluated based on their performance and their students' academic achievement.[3] In eight states in America, tenure is given to teachers after just two years of teaching during the probation period. In two states, tenure is awarded after only one year of teaching during the probation period. Washington DC does not require a set time for awarding tenure.[11] Supporters of this motion feel that one or two years is too short a time to tell if a teacher is having a positive effect on their students. Before these teachers are granted lifetime job protection, they would like to see them perform on probation for a longer period of time. Reforms have been created in all forms. Some reforms call for longer probation periods while others call for stricter teacher evaluations. Other reforms wish to rid the tenure system completely and replace this system with renewable contracts.[3]

Key actors[edit]

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is working hard to reform the tenure system in New Jersey. He does not want to eliminate the tenure system completely. He wants to eliminate the current tenure system and replace it with a new one.[12] Currently in New Jersey, after a teacher proves themselves efficient for 3 years, they gain lifetime protection under tenure.[2] Christie wants to change the tenure system. He wants teachers to prove themselves for three years to gain tenure. However, after one year of being deemed "ineffective", teachers will easily be fired. Christie wants to judge whether a teacher is ineffective or not on a two part assessment. One part of the score will be based on student achievement. The second part of the score will be based on teacher performance.[12] Christie believes the answer to making schools more effective is to place more accountability on teachers.[13] Christie stated, "Let New Jersey lead the way again,", "The time to eliminate teacher tenure is now."[14]

Former chancellor of DC public schools, Michelle Rhee, had made plans to eliminate teacher tenure altogether. Rhee designed a pay plan which would compensate teachers by giving them big pay raises in exchange for their tenure protection rights. She gave existing tenured teachers the choice to accept this proposal. New hires would be forced to accept this new pay plan. New hires would be paid on the basis of their students' achievement. While teachers would prospectively be able to make more money under this pay plan, they would not be granted any tenure protections. Rhee's plan was unsuccessful. Teachers did not want to give up their tenure protections for a higher salary. After this plan failed she continued to devise plans. She offered a buyout plan for existing teachers with tenure. In 2009, she created a plan called IMPACT. This plan tied students performance on state tests to teachers evaluation. While this plan gained the support of many, there were still many others who opposed it.[3]

Against tenure reform[edit]

Supporters of tenure argue that tenure is necessary in making education systems successful. Tenure protects teachers and allows them to participate in unfavorable activities. For example, teachers are able to fail poorly performing students regardless of how influential they are to the school. Supporters also assert it protects teachers' freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is especially important when teachers write articles on issues which their administrators may not be in favor of. Those in favor of keeping tenure also argue that teachers are fired easily when they commit serious crimes or are ineffective. Supporters of the tenure system say tenure is not keeping teachers who would commit such crimes in the system. In some states, schools are required to pay more to teachers who have earned higher degrees, and tenure allows teachers to secure a job, go back to school, and return to their jobs, not fearing dismissal because of their higher pay grade. Supporters liken tenure to the concept of seniority in other jobs. Teachers are often forced into uncomfortable situations (such as failing students, choosing certain students). An employee who makes decisions of a difficult and confrontational nature would thus require job protection.[15] Many who are against the motion of reforming/eliminating tenure argue that tenure allows teaching to become a profession rather than just a job. Presumably, teachers would not have as much job stability and would be forced to transfer from school to school. Giving teachers permanent positions would allow them to form bonds and relationships with students, parents, and other faculty.[16]

Recent reform actions taken[edit]

Many states have recently made reforms to their tenure system. Some of these states include:

  • California was the first state to adopt a tenure system. They have made many attempts to reform their system. One of the more recent attempts was made by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in January 2005. He tried to pass an act (Excellence in Teaching Act) which would pay teachers on the basis of their performance. He also wanted to enact the "Put the Kids First Act" which would extend the probation period of teachers to five years (it is currently two years). This act would also allow a school to fire teachers after two unsatisfactory ratings. The school would no longer have to give the teacher 90 days to improve their performance before being fired. This stirred up much controversy among the teachers in California. The act was voted on and was never passed.[3]
  • Florida- In 1997 a major movement toward reforming tenure took place. This reform is considered a success. This tenure reform reduced the probationary period a teacher worked to achieve tenure to 97 days instead of a year. During those 97 days, a teacher could be fired without just cause. The results of this tenure reform do not seem to be making any major improvements in Florida's tenure system. Only 101 of Florida's 10,689 new teachers were dismissed by the school in 1998. While this reform is considered a success, teacher unions stepped in and won back many protections. In 2009, a new plan was proposed. Legislators wished to get rid of tenure for all new teachers. Tenure would be replaced with yearly renewable contracts. After ten years, a teacher would be eligible for renewable contracts which would last up to five years. This plan was never passed by the Senate.[3]
  • New York- In 2007, Mayor Michael Bloomberg voiced his concern that although teachers could be let go easily during the three year probation period, they hardly were. In 2008, Bloomberg introduced the Principal Portal. This was a tool that principals would use to help evaluate their teachers. It gave them guidelines to follow and base their decisions on. The Principal Portal was successful. The number of teachers let go during their probation period doubled in the first year. Bloomberg also wished to have students test scores incorporated in the tenure process.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What Is Teacher Tenure?". Education.com. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  2. ^ a b c Horn, Brandon. "New Jersey Teacher Tenure". Mrhorn.com. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2011-05-05.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "Tenure Under Attack: Myth and Fact in the Tenure Debate". Education Resources Information Center. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  5. ^ http://www.nhps.net/node/2328
  6. ^ http://www.doe.virginia.gov/teaching/performance_evaluation/teacher/index.shtml
  7. ^ http://www.state.nj.us/education/AchieveNJ/teacher/
  8. ^ a b "AAV of Tracing the Roots of Teacher Tenure". California Department of Education. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  9. ^ http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~reupfom/tenure.html
  10. ^ a b Rotherham, Andrew J. (2011-01-27). "Teacher Tenure Debate: How to Modify Due-Process Rules". Time. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  11. ^ Merrow, John (2011-02-23). "It's Time to Debate Teacher Tenure". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  12. ^ a b Mooney, John (2011-04-14). "Gov. Christie Offers First Peek at Education Reform Bills". NJ Spotlight. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  13. ^ Mooney, John (2011-02-10). "Union City Schools: A Test Case for Christie Reforms?". NJ Spotlight. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  14. ^ Galioto, Catherine (2011-01-11). "Christie Calls for Eliminating Teacher Tenure and Cutting Spending". Patch.com. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  15. ^ Stewart E Brekke (2001). "Why Teachers Need Tenure". Teachers.Net. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
  16. ^ Matt Coleman (2011-04-07). "Why teachers need tenure". Gainesville.com. Retrieved 2011-05-05.