Tenure in education

Tenure in education

First off, let me just state that I have always worked in higher education. Here tenure is a big deal and I think it is in k-12 as well. My question is – should we still have tenure at any level?

I spent the last few days researching this topic and have read some good articles on both sides of the argument. I went in with the notion that this is not a good thing and is in fact doing more harm than good. However, after doing some further reading I have really come to look at it from both sides.

I do think that most folks would say that when it was implemented in the early 1900’s it was done for good reason. Mainly for the protection of women educators. However, now 100 years later as the world has changed it might be a good time to revisit this issue. One of the major problems with that, at least at the k-12 level has been the power of the education unions.

From my standpoint of doing graduate research over the past 2 years, I have really embraced the active learning, student centered, constructivist teaching methodology. This outlook is really focused on the students. From what I personally have seen, tenure is not helping the students in the classroom or empowering faculty to take more risks in teaching then they normally would have without tenure. I have seen the assessment and evaluations take a dive after a faculty member reaches tenure. I have also seen tenured faculty taking all of the higher level (less students) classes and giving the low level classes to new faculty, now this may really have nothing to do with tenure, but just an observation on my part.

Please know that I have also seen amazing teachers continue to be amazing teachers. So, does tenure really make a difference for learning (positive or negative) and should it? I realize that this is hot topic so I welcome your feedback on either side of the argument.

13 thoughts on “Tenure in education

  1. Yes… I think tenure should remain. It’s a reward for a professor’s great contributions to their field and their school. How it is used is another matter and reflects the character of a person. But that shouldn’t spoil everyone’s picnic. I don’t know much about the process of being considered for tenure, but I’d say it boils down to the leadership.

    Barring some fundamental change, though, like making tenure with stricter conditionals, I think the only possibility for tackling these issues lies in how professors are evaluated on and awarded tenure. This may be different at each school because the leadership is different. I’m sure there’s a great deal of politics involved and that’s unfortunate, but good leadership can hopefully recognize the character of a person and be able to make a sound assessment on the likelihood they will use tenure as a reward and not a lifetime insurance payout. Most people can only hide their spots for so long.

    1. Todd, you are right that usage of tenure varies quite a bit. Some states like North Carolina have tried to repeal it. (Story here) and now the governor is giving all teachers a large pay raise. I think you are very right that it comes back toward good leadership and the ability to make a sound assessment, however, as Angela stated, not all leadership makes sounds judgements.

  2. Tenure is a touchy subject, and I think there are other aspects involved depending on geographical locations. I know it’s 2017, and we’re supposed to EOE, but in living in small, Southern towns for most of my career, you see a lot of nepotism. Without tenure, I could potentially be replaced by someone’s grandson/daughter who needs a job or if a less costly employee applied (i.e. one with a lower degree). I know you say the focus is not of students, but I don’t feel that it is primarily due to teachers. Some districts run like businesses and seek ways to be cost-effective while also protecting reputations. I’ve been tenured for a while, and I feel like the opposite of risk-taking is true. Risk-taking seems much more prevalent after tenure is established. Non-tenured teachers tend to go along for fear of the dreaded pink slip.

    1. Angela, good points. The country is so varied on districts sizes and resources that what you say hits home. In rural areas, tenure can serve yet another purpose, one that didn’t come up in my research of guarding against nepotism. Nice to hear you say that risk-tasking is more prevalent after tenure, I think that is key toward the argument of keeping tenure. Thanks for your comments

    2. Wow! Great point on more risk-taking for tenured teachers. Is this done responsibly or in a “gone rogue” manner? Dan seems to say it’s more the latter and you appear to be talking about the former. Dan and Angela, how much from each category have you experienced in your own careers?

  3. Ahhhhh….tenure. What a thought. K-12 teachers don’t have it in Wisconsin anymore, nor do our unions have much power thanks to the governor stripping us (and all public unions) of most of our rights (collective bargaining, anyone?). Since K-12 administrations in WI can now do their teachers us as they chose without much thought (who’s going to protect us?), our pay scales have changed as have our rights. We live in fear of retribution and replacement. I would love to see tenure come back for the sole purpose of protection (there’s a lot of nepotism here too), but then again, at the rate teachers are fleeing public education in Wisconsin, I’m protected by the sheer lack of options my district has to replace me. As Dan noted earlier “not all leadership makes sound judgments”, and the effects of living in such an environment are large.

  4. I feel like this is a hot topic all over the world! I know in Spain it’s not only an issue in education. People have tried to appeal it but they continue to keep it as an incentive for employees to want to “earn” a good position. I believe in incentives for sure! It keeps us teachers wanting to try new things, changing our practices if they have not been so successful and in my opinion most importantly, wanting to grow as educators. However, workings hard for ten years and then not having any other incentive to look forward to would make anyone lose motivation and when this happens it has the potential of affecting our students negatively.

    1. Itxaso, Thanks for your comments. Once again, I didn’t realize that this is a worldwide issue. I really like your positive spin wanting to try new challenges and viewing tenure as an incentive. Funny that you actually mention it being ten years, because to my knowledge from what I can tell it is much less. I think it is just three years in California and here in Montana you get it awarded at the start of your 4th contract. Maybe that is the issue that we award it so early in a teaching career, and maybe extending that timeline to tenure would make it more valuable or as you put it “an incentive”.

  5. While I understand some of the arguments against tenure, I think it is a net positive. Working for a private company that obviously doesn’t have it, trying to really innovate is a bit dangerous. Even though it’s not like people are fired left and right, it can be intimidating to try to innovate in a “right to work” state without any protections. It’s like that sickening feeling you get when walking down icy steps when you don’t have health insurance; sure, it’s likely nothing will happen, but you stay extra careful because you can’t afford the fall. It puts a pressure to stay conservative instead of pushing to new ideas. I could see perhaps weakening it in some ways to allow for the removal of that rare teacher coasting to retirement, but over-all I think it’s worth keeping.

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