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Talking Teacher Tenure

On the panel were AFT President Randi Weingarten, Jane Hannaway of Georgetown University’s McCourt School, Century Foundation Senior Fellow Richard Kahlenberg, and National Center on Education and the Economy President Marc Tucker. 
The wide-ranging discussion touched on several important aspects of the debate beginning with the historical pressures that gave rise to tenure and their intersection with national labor laws. Some panelists argued the need for a discussion of tenure within a broader, more appropriate context of support and improvement.
Predating America’s major labor laws, tenure emerged in the Progressive Era as a way to buffer schools from patronage hiring practices and a shield for academic freedom in the classroom. It also served as a defense against race and sex discrimination. 
The concept today often “elicits such outrage and anger,” Kahlenberg observed, because of a general misunderstanding of what tenure is and what it is not. Put simply, tenure “is not a lifetime guaranteed job but provides teachers who have demonstrated competence after a probationary period with due-process rights before being fired.”
Click here for more on the history of tenure from Kahlenberg.
“K-12 tenure is a far cry from college tenure — or the United States’ Supreme Court tenure,” said Weingarten. “It really is ‘just cause’ dismissal — it should not be a ‘job for life.’ It should not be a cloak for incompetence or an excuse for managers not to manage,” she added. 
Click here for more on AFT’s position on K-12 tenure.
Among the topics addressed by panelists:
  • tenure as a recruiting incentive;
  • how the tenure debate is shaped by public perception of teaching and by socioeconomic forces in public education;
  • the connection between sound management practices and tenure; and
  • the ways that supports such as peer review and career ladders factor into the discussion.

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