In jumping into the teacher-tenure debate, I know I’m stirring up a hornet’s nest. But who doesn’t like a little danger now and again? So here goes.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu recently struck down California’s teacher-tenure system in a lawsuit brought by a small group of students backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire, ruling that tenure violates the state’s constitution because it deprives students of a sound, basic education by keeping poorly performing teachers in place, according to The New York Times.
The Vergara v. California ruling, which will spend years under appeal, has electrified tenure’s critics. The New York City Parents Union filed suit in State Supreme Court on Staten Island on July 3, seeking to overturn New York’s tenure law on similar grounds.
I come from a family of teachers. I grew up in Suffolk County, hearing stories about teachers unfairly targeted by boards of education or administrators because they spoke their minds. Tenure, which gives teachers due process rights and requires districts to show “just cause” to remove them, was their shield against an often capricious system that ebbed and flowed according to political currents.
Little has changed since then.
At no time has tenure been more important than during the recent rollout of the Common Core State Standards. Tenured teachers have been among the most vocal critics of the State Education Department’s hasty, many would say chaotic, implementation of the standards. Teachers have spoken out without fear of reprisal –– that is, without fear of losing their jobs — thanks to tenure.
Without tenure, they could be silenced by the powers that be. Tenured teachers, though, needn’t toe the proverbial company line. That’s good for students. The freedom to speak their minds ensures that teachers can engage in vigorous debate, whether in the classroom or boardroom, and keep their jobs. Spirited discussion is the foundation of our democracy. Without it, we become a totalitarian state.