Should Bad Teachers be Protected by Tenure?


In most jobs, a person’s performance will dictate their advancement, raises and job security.  Someone who performs well often gets promoted over others that don’t perform as well and employees who don’t perform well and don’t meet company standards often find themselves looking for work.

So why is it different with teachers?  In many school districts, once a teacher is awarded tenure, it doesn’t matter how poor of a teacher they are, tenure basically protects them from facing any consequences for their poor performance. Why should a bad teacher who achieves tenure be allowed to keep his/her job?

Take the public schools in California for instance.  More than 300,000 public school teachers in the state have achieved tenure over the past ten years. During that same time frame, only 19 of them lost their jobs due to poor performance.

With so few tenured teachers losing their jobs due to poor performance, you would expect California to have excellent teachers and their students to be among the best in the nation.  However, when the National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores of California’s fourth and eighth graders against those from the rest of the nation, they rank among the lowest.

Nine public school students in California have asked the same question about tenure protecting bad teachers so they filed a lawsuit in 2012, with the help of Students Matter against the state of California.  They are challenging three state laws that protect tenured teachers:

  • Permanent Employment Statute: The permanent employment law forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after only 18 months—before new teachers even complete their beginner teacher programs and before administrators are able to assess whether a teacher will be effective long-term.

  • Dismissal StatutesThe process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works. In the past 10 years in the entire state of California, only 91 teachers have been dismissed, and the vast majority of those dismissals were for egregious conduct. Only 19 dismissals were based, in whole or in part, on unsatisfactory performance.

  • “Last-In, First-Out” Layoff StatuteThe LIFO law reduces teachers to faceless seniority numbers. The LIFO law forces administrators to let go of passionate and motivating newer teachers and keep ineffective teachers instead, just because they have seniority.

A year ago, the two largest teacher’s unions in California sided with the state to defend against the lawsuit.  In December 2013, the court denied a motion for summary judgment that had been filed by the State and the unions.  Later that month, the State and unions attempted to avoid trial by using what’s known as evade and delay strategies.  On January 14, 2014, the California Court of Appeals denied the evade and delay effort of the State and unions and ordered the trial to start on January 27, 2014.  They are now waiting for July 10 of this year when Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu is scheduled to give his ruling on the case.

How do you feel about the subject?  Do you feel that teachers should be protected once they attain tenure or should their jobs be performance based like so many other jobs?  Which system would provide the best teachers for the millions of students being filtered through the public system?

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