Join the thousands of parents and supporters of Missouri's public schools to learn what you can do to help!

Teacher Tenure: The Great Debate



The eighth annual Education Next poll was released last month. The online poll, which is overseen by the Harvard Program on Education Policy, is sent out to parents, teachers, and the general public in May and June, asking questions about education and education policy.

The 2014 survey asked about school accountability, teacher effectiveness, school spending and Common Core, among others things. The results: there is a disparity between teachers and the general public regarding opinions on teacher tenure.

The Education Next poll is administered by the peer-reviewed education journal by the same name. The journal, which is sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and the Stanford University Hoover Institution, aims to present facts as shown by research, rather than to take part in “programs, campaigns, or ideologies”.

In a story about the Education Next poll findings, EducationNext (the journal) said that, “…a majority of the public opposes teacher tenure. However, a majority of teachers favor tenure…” (source)

The Education Next poll is a national poll, and teacher tenure is a contentious topic nationwide. Although arguments about teacher tenure aren’t specific to Missouri, policies related to teacher tenure are passed at the state level. Teachers,
administrators, politicians, wealthy investors, parents, and local communities are forming opinions—and expressing them—on local, state, and national stages.

There are strong arguments both for and against teacher tenure. Some of those arguments are muddied by misunderstandings about what tenure really means for public school teachers.

So What Does Tenure Mean? TWEET THIS
In Missouri, teacher tenure does not guarantee a teacher a permanent position in a school or district. Teachers who are performing poorly or who violate school policy (or, more seriously, the law) can still be fired by their districts.

Likewise, teachers who are tenured are not locked into their current jobs forever. As long as the teacher cancels his or her contract on or before June 1st, the teacher is free to move on without the permission of his or her school board.

These are just two common misperceptions about teacher tenure in Missouri. To learn more about how tenure works for schools and teachers, read this post.

Arguments for Teacher Tenure
Proponents of teacher tenure argue that it “protects teachers from arbitrary dismissal” (source) and that it prevents teachers from being dismissed “for frivolous reasons” (source).

Additionally, those in favor of tenure believe that it’s important that teachers have the right to object to being dismissed. Tenure provides teachers with the opportunity to use an arbitrator to help represent the information surrounding a dismissal. This means that teachers who feel they’ve been dismissed for reasons unrelated to their classroom performance (personal biases of administrators, discrimination, etc.) can have help protecting themselves and their livelihoods.

Nationally, there is a push by reformers, teachers, and others toward teaching as a profession equal to law, medicine, engineering, or respected career paths in many other fields. Teaching is a profession that deserves professional-level respect and protection, and tenure is one way to help draw great people into the field—and to keep great teachers in our schools.

Arguments Against Teacher Tenure
Policy makers and reformers who advocate against teacher tenure say that tenure makes it difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to remove bad teachers from schools. Many believe that teacher tenure has to end in order for students to receive quality education from their teachers.

Rex Sinquefield is just one of the many reformers who has spoken out locally against tenure. In a video posted on his website, Sinquefield says that, “We have to be able to get rid of teachers like that and reward the former type of teacher that can really help kids.”

Arguments against teacher are not entirely focused on the ability to fire teachers. Those who are against tenure also believe that tenure encourages complacency among tenured teachers, and that tenure focuses on the interest of the teacher, failing to advance the interests of students.

It is important to note that supporters of tenure often have exponentially less funding for press and media coverage with which to share their views. Opponents of tenure, on the other hand, are often the same well-funded reform groups that can afford to pay for their opinions to be heard.

A Contentious Debate
There is no question that the debate over teacher tenure is a contentious one. Teachers, administrators, and educational organizations believe that teacher tenure is in the best interest of students and that it treats teachers like professionals.

Reformers and wealthy investors—who have the loudest proverbial and literal microphone with which to communicate to the public—argue against teacher tenure. Those opponents say that teachers don’t need to protect their jobs; that test scores will show who the effective teachers are, and that “we have to be able to get ride of teachers” whose students don’t score highly enough.

Teacher Tenure and Missouri Amendment 3
Teacher tenure will be on Missouri’s general election ballot in November. If you’re not sure how to vote, understanding what tenure really means for Missouri teachers is a helpful starting point.

What is Teach Great is another helpful post on this site, providing information on the organization that petitioned to get Amendment 3 onto the November 4th ballot. Finally, this post explains what Amendment 3 means for your child’s education.

Missouri Parent believes that Missouri’s students deserve strong local schools and a great public education system, and we will continue to share information with you that will help you learn more about policies and funding that affect local schools. Visit the Missouri Parent Blog often, like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date on policy that affects your child’s education in Missouri.


photo credit: Public Record Office Victoria via photopin cc


3550 Amazonas Drive, Jefferson City, MO 65109. 573-638-4825