While most public school teachers are exceptional at educating, some need to be dismissed. This is why the movement to reform teacher tenure is spreading rapidly across the country. In recent years, many governors called for the reform of tenure.
The issue is bipartisan as many big-city mayors across the country, most of whom are Democrats, support the idea of holding teachers accountable to help out their failing school districts. Democratic mayors Cory Booker of Newark (now U.S. Senator of New Jersey), Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles, and Kevin Johnson of Sacramento (wife of education activist Michelle Rhee) support holding teachers accountable.
Florida Governor Rick Scott explained that “Good teachers know they don’t need tenure. There is no reason to have it except to protect those that don’t perform as they should.”
Teacher tenure was first created by New Jersey in 1909 to protect educators from being dismissed based on sex, race, or political views. However, standardized test scores have been declining in recent years and many countries have surpassed our scores in math, science, and reading. Since 1970, most public school funding has skyrocketed while test scores have remained flat. In 2008, D.C. Public School District Chancellor Michelle Rhee offered teachers the choice of salaries of up to $140,000 without tenure. The teachers’ union rejected it without a vote.
In 2010, Colorado pioneered tenure reform by passing legislation that would take away tenure for teachers who are found to be “ineffective” for two consecutive years. The bill was signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter, a Democrat. The movement gained momentum the next year. Idaho Governor Butch Otter signed a bill into law that completely eliminated tenure. However, voters of the red state vetoed the law the year after in a voter referendum. But, many other states significantly reformed job protection laws and have remained.
The movement has made tremendous progress in recent years. Today, thirteen states and D.C. either have no tenure system in place, or require tenure to be obtained and retained based on academic performance. It can now be revoked after a two “ineffective” ratings.
Some states are more aggressive than others. For example, Florida (2011) and North Carolina (2013) have completely eliminated tenure. This week, Kansas is going to become the third state to abolish tenure as soon as Governor Sam Brownback signs the bill. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed a bill into law in 2012 that requires teachers to attain tenure after obtaining five “highly effective” ratings in six years. In contrast, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed a bill into law the in 2013 that requires teachers to attain tenure after only two “effective” or “highly effective” ratings.
There is still a lot of room for improvement. Thirty-two states still give tenure automatically after a few years. Thirty-four states require seniority to be the primary factor in layoff decisions. Only six states completely ban seniority from being a factor in layoffs. Michelle Rhee explained “The bottom line is that we have to move to a system that focuses on job performance in the classroom instead of rewarding educators for factors that aren’t tied to student achievement, such as time served.”
This article has been updated several times.