OK, I'll say it: Teachers deserve tenure
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To fully understand the importance of tenure, we look back at its origins. The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, formed in the late 19th century. Instituting teacher tenure was high on its agenda. In that era, teachers could lose their jobs because they taught “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” A female teacher could be fired if she got married, became pregnant or wore pants to school, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan ProCon.org.
Teachers recognized the precariousness of a job in which they were beholden to numerous stakeholders –– not only students, but also parents, school administrators, board trustees, even elected leaders, each with their own beliefs and agendas.
According to Time magazine’s “A Brief History of Tenure,” published in 2008, New Jersey passed the first tenure law, covering all teachers in kindergarten through 12th grade, in 1910.
University professors, too, saw the need for tenure back then. Their primary concern was academic freedom, according to the American Association of University Professors, of which I am a member. It all started in 1900, when renowned Stanford University economist Edward Ross was summarily dismissed because Jane Stanford, the university’s co-founder, with her husband, Leland, didn’t appreciate Ross’s views on immigrant labor and corporate monopolies, the AAUP’s website states.
John Dewey, a Columbia University professor of philosophy and education, and Arthur Lovejoy, a Johns Hopkins University philosophy professor, organized the AAUP’s first meeting in 1915, primarily to fight for academic freedom –– meaning professor tenure.
Tenure is now standard practice at all levels of the American education system, from primary to university. It has served our democracy well for over a century.
Critics say that too many teachers are rated effective or highly effective. There must be more bad apples, but tenure protects them. They point to a handful of high-profile cases in which teachers have committed egregious errors and have remained in the classroom.