“So you think job insecurity is what makes me work hard? I want to be an actor. That’s not an incentive. That’s the thing. See, you take this MBA-style thinking, right? It’s the problem with ed(education) policy right now, this intrinsically paternalistic view of problems that are much more complex than that. It’s like saying a teacher is going to get lazy when they have tenure. A teacher wants to teach. I mean, why else would you take a shitty salary and really long hours and do that job unless you really love to do it?” Matt Damon speaking to a Reason.tv reporter (www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/02/).
Tenure (Hardly Home Free)
Recently, the Chicago Tribune coupled (conspired?) with the Joyce Foundation to implement and report a poll of Chicagoans, which promoted the concept of Charter Schools as an overwhelming positive educational force for good in the city. The timing of course couldn’t have been better – given the closing of so many schools, the carefully orchestrated vacation-absence of the Mayor, and the furious street-rally reaction by the Chicago Teachers Union. By the way, the Tribune under-reported that only a few hundred showed up for the protest (of which nearly 150 were arrested). Nearly 25 – 50% arrested? Now, that’s a story.
Of course, one group supporting the polling results was Stand For Children, an organization with deep roots and financial benefits in germinating charter schools in the city; however, the numbers are twisty for the newspaper and their charter supporters. In fact, according to the Tribune editorial “an overwhelming number” of CPS parents are satisfied with their child’s teacher(s) (26 March 2013). This jumps away from the script of public school failure the Chicago Tribune and Stand For Children have been pushing for years. As a result, the reporting back of results has been subject to some creative revision.
Blaming teachers themselves has always worked for the Tribune and others, so once again that old theme is resurrected. “However, that appreciation has limits. The poll found that CPS parents have little appreciation, nor do we, for leaving teachers who don’t make the grade in the classroom year after year. More than 6 in 10 respondents (61.7%) believe it’s unfair for a student to have a low-rated teacher for more than a year. We’re with the majority…”
Thus, the Tribune tries to connect a positive response to the state of parents’ feelings for public education in our city with a negative scenario in order to bend an outcome. This specific kind of fallacious polling is questioned in a recent report by Diane Ravitch, which characterizes the Tribune/Joyce poll as a blatant attempt at “push polling”: a poll with questions designed to achieve a specific planned objective or pre-determined conclusions (http://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/26/did-chicago-tribune-and-joyce-foundation-do-push-polling/).
Stand For Children used this feint as a bullet point in their website promotion of the poll: “71.9% believe that ineffective teachers should be laid off…regardless of tenure if budget cuts need to be made” (http://stand.org/illinois/blog/2013/03/26/joyce-foundationchicago-tribune-poll). Who would disagree? But the idea is to make it seem there is a problem.
Corporatists, Charter Schools and the Chicago Tribune constantly disseminate the erroneous fear/belief that an educator with tenure has the privilege of permanent employment forever and ever. While most Chicagoans believe their children have good teachers (according to their own polls), it is this possibility of evil that the Tribune uses to foment crisis and therefore corporate takeover of public education.
Want to know what tenure really is?
Tenure is, quite simply, a privilege granted to an experienced educator to due process when or if facing dismissal. In other words, a teacher who has achieved a position of tenure can no longer be fired arbitrarily. A tenured teacher may also deserves a list of reasons, evidence, union representation or, in some cases, a remediation plan as described by the collective bargaining agreement of a district. Tenure, by the way, is not a guarantee against being released from a teaching position. Even tenured teachers can be fired summarily for cause (section 24-12 of IL School Code). In such a case, the tenured teacher’s rights include a written notice of charges and the possibility to request a hearing within ten days. On the other hand, if a charge is considered to be irremediable (damaging to students, faculty, or the school beyond any correction), dismissal may be immediate. In other situations causing the dismissal of a tenured teacher, a district’s financial constraints may also override the protection of tenure; that is, if financial concerns or other needs require the loss of classes in a school, tenured faculty may be released. Normally this occurs in about 2 per cent of faculty on the national level annually (Truth About Tenure in Higher Education. www.nea.org/home/33067.html). Finally, unsatisfactory evaluations for tenured teachers can also result in remediation plans lasting between 90 days and one year. Collegial mentoring is provided the tenured teacher in question, and intermittent evaluations then determine whether the tenured teacher has been remediated or will be discharged.
The process to tenure is difficult to attain, purposely, so firing or releasing a tenured teacher is as difficult as it is to become one. In the State of Illinois, the probationary period for a teacher to become tenured at an institution takes four full academic years if first employed by a school district after January 1, 1998. Besides mentoring and collegial assistance, a new teacher can expect to be observed formally and informally a number of times per academic year. Written records of observations are combined with late-year reviews and observations to generate a summative evaluation. Even so, failure to achieve growth, take leadership in curriculum development, adjust to new methodology, demonstrate adequate student learning, etc., can result in lower evaluations and ultimately dismissal.
While my neighbors might think the teachers all relax, as Mr. Damon suggests, the opposite is actually more accurate. Educational research demonstrates “ Teachers with tenure spend over 50 hours per week performing work in classrooms, on committees, in curriculum development and working one-on-one with needy students” (Truth About Higher Education).
In fact, tenure is more than simply a protection against firing an educator. It is a provision for academic freedom, including the right to assembly, confront ideas, advance opinion and enter spirited debate without fear of recrimination. As early as 1887, the same teachers who struggled with the teaching of Huck Finn met in Chicago at the National Educators Association maiden conference to discuss, among many issues, the need for a teachers’ tenure. Huck was, after all, a boy who spit and swore, not a model for a younger generation of Americans, and pity the foolish and unprotected teacher who dared express a fondness for the ultimate message of Twain’s ironic text if the book had offended the local administrator. “New Jersey became the first state to pass tenure legislation when, in 1910, it granted fair dismissal rights to college professors. During the suffrage movements of the 1920’s – when female teachers could be fired for getting married or getting pregnant or (gasp) wearing pants – such rights were extended to elementary and high school teachers as well” (www.time.com.nation/article/0,8599,1859505,00.html). Education and its institutions and its employees are hopefully a safe haven from political and current popular whimsy.
In some states, tenure has been replaced with renewable contracts (Oregon) and rehabilitation for under-achieving teachers. Several other states have eliminated the term altogether, but they have maintained the due-process that is associated with the term tenure ( from the Latin to hold or keep).
Finally, radio pundits and street corner philosophers may grumble that tenure has injured education; however, considerable numbers of educators and academics also warn that lower test scores and unacceptable graduation rates have little to do with tenure; rather, under-funded districts, economic downturns, familial crises, and wrong-headed emphasis on reductionism/testing have been responsible for the maladies of the modern classroom.
By the way, you won’t see this discussion in the Chicago Tribune.