Friday, March 16, 2012

Jeffrey Mirel describes the argument for K-12 teacher tenure on Ed Week blog

Tags: digital signage, educational studies, k-12, mirel, teacher education

Jeffrey Mirel gives the historical justifications for teacher tenure and places those arguments in contemporary context on Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch's blog, Bridging Differences, hosted on the Education Week website. The post which includes Jeff's comments is titled "Why are Teachers So Upset?" and was posted on March 13, 2012. He writes:

"I think the traditional reasons for tenure (i.e., to keep public schools as free as possible from becoming stages for political manipulation and to enable high-quality, career-minded teachers to stay in the classroom for as long as possible) are still good. What has changed is the context these positions must be argued in.

For example, in the first case—politicization of curriculum—it is impossible to imagine a time when tenure protection is more vital than now. The country is so divided that on any given school day teachers can be denounced, "tried," and fired over an amazingly wide range of issues (e.g., discussing the age of the earth, accuracy of the theory of evolution, the appropriateness of reading Huck Finn, what the Founders meant by the separation of church and state, the effectiveness of the New Deal, or what Shakespeare meant when he wrote in "Romeo and Juliet:" "... the bawdy hand of the dial is now on the prick of noon." (Act II, Scene 4). That last one actually happened when I was teaching the play to 9th graders in the late 1970s—one very sharp kid asked me about it after class—I had tenure so I was not too worried about explaining it to him but I began by saying, "What do you think Shakespeare is saying?" The young man told me what he thought, I told him he was probably right, and he walked away shaking his head in amazement.

Given all that, tenure is a crucial protection for teachers and a crucial part of getting students to be literate, critical thinkers,and engaged citizens.

The second case, tenure helping good teachers stay in field—you're right on this in your review of Wendy Kopp's book. If the goal of getting excellent teachers to stick around for 20 or 30 years, then they need tenure protection in no small part because they are NEVER going to get paid what they are worth financially. Without tenure, teaching school cannot compete in the economic marketplace (e.g., I know people in the business world who have only a B.A. in business and, after 10 years in the field, are making 2.5-3 times what public school teachers are making. Without good job protection we will never have long term, high quality teachers in our classrooms.

So, I think tenure is necessary, but it also must be accompanied by ways to remove bad, tenured teachers—figuring that out is more difficult than why we should have tenure in the first place."

Jeffrey Mirel is the David L. Angus Collegiate Chair, School of Education; and professor, Department of History, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

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