Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tenure fight in Colorado - and what it means here

Since I also tend to read a lot about education, I found this interesting discussion that is playing out nationally. This post is more a general observation about teaching, not a specific comment on our teachers per se.

There's an interesting fight going on in Colorado over tenure reform. (Link to article) Colorado is the latest state to take on the concept of tenure.

I "get" the underlying idea of tenure. In a University environment, it may be necessary to protect a researcher who is working on something that isn't politically popular. In a high school or even elementary district, though, I'm not sure I see the value in it.

People in all sorts of jobs are dismissed for a variety of reasons. Some sales people don't make their quotas. Some engineers write bad code. Some doctors have a lousy bedside manner. Waiters don't get orders right, and mechanics take too long to fix a car. And yes, sometimes folks get fired because the boss just doesn't like them.

In the real world, though, it's easy to change jobs. You're always free to seek out a better boss. Why is it that teaching should be different? Teachers work for the community through the local school district. If the local school district has a "bad principal" and that principal fires good teachers, don't we think the community will figure that out -- and fire the principal? Meanwhile, anyone who was impacted by the bad principal has gone on to work for a presumably better principal in another district. It happens all the time in the real world. Why not in teaching?

Education is about the kids, so let's look at this from their perspective. There is some risk that we have a bad principal, and that it will take a couple of years to figure that out and fire the principal. Then you'd have to rebuild the staff. Of course at that point, the district would be aware, and would be moving resources around to make the situation better. The converse, the risk of doing nothing, is that we have a bad teacher in place permanently and they impact kids year after year after year. At a larger level, I also believe it keeps teacher compensation artificially low because people won't support raises for a group that protects poor performers. That drives good teachers out, or keeps people away from the profession because they can't afford the salary cut.

In my mind, the biggest impact of tenure is that it hurts good teachers. Under tenure, bad teachers are protected. The community knows this, and it saps the will of the community to compensate teachers well, because Mrs. So-and-so is a bad teacher, and folks can't justify having her get a great raise.

In addition to Colorado, I applaud Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of the Washington, DC school district. She has taken bold steps and changed the face of tenure in her distinct. It looks like Colorado is on a path to do the same. Here in California, we could learn from them both.

Here at LASD, I think we have some fabulous teachers. I'm not "gunning for someone's job". I just think we could use the flexibility in shaping our program.

[donning asbestos suit...]

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