The Hechinger Report is a national nonprofit newsroom that reports on one topic: education. Sign up for our weekly newsletters to get stories like this delivered directly to your inbox.

Editors note: The debate over teacher tenure lit up social media this week, and generated several petitions, after Time released its Nov. 3 cover. The magazine began publishing a series of opinion pieces in response to the article. The following Hechinger Report opinion piece on tenure comes from a longtime teacher

I get it. When a worker consistently fails to measure up to standards on the job, that worker deserves to be fired. Yet in the public school system, a very different code is in operation.

“Tenure is the foundation of the education system in America. It tells the students, parents and administrators that we are here to stay and you had better get on with what we are trying to present as a solid education.”

Granting lifetime tenure is not the best way to run a business. In fact, the CEO at the bank has it within his power to dismiss a worker if he doesn’t like that employee’s work. However, that same banker cannot apply that rule to his child’s teacher who is not performing to his expectations in dealing with his child’s raucous classroom behavior.

The public school teacher is a mirror. Parents see the reflection of their children when a teacher shares the truth about what he or she witnesses in the classroom. When the teacher holds up the mirror, some parents do not like what they see. Some will even deny the image and blame the teacher.

RELATED: After Vergara, activists expect court battles over teacher tenure across the U.S.

In today’s classrooms, there are a number of children who misbehave, refuse to complete work, skip class, and disrupt the atmosphere of learning. On many occasions a warranted consequence is handed out in the hope that it teaches the child accountability for his or her actions. However, there are times when parents balk at such attempts to teach culpability and a confrontation ensues.

From experience I can tell you administrators do not always support their staff. Teachers do get reprimanded. Teachers do get in trouble. Teachers, just like other employees, are held accountable for their actions. And of course, this is as it should be. Yet, could you imagine if every teacher who displeased any parent or administrator or student was fired because someone doesn’t like what he or she sees in the mirror?

RELATED: Under siege—and in bid to stay relevant—teacher unions evolve

Lee Kronert

Tenure is being attacked from all sides, including via the Common Core. The controversy surrounds the importance placed on state exams. A teacher’s personal evaluation score is now partially based upon what percentage of students pass this particularly difficult test. The exam itself is poorly written, ambiguous and changes every year, leaving teachers in the dark about what topics will be stressed.

This evaluation process has been conceived with the goal of showing due cause for challenging a teacher’s right to tenure. Teachers whose students do not meet a certain achievement levels when scored on the entire class grade population can be deemed ineffective.

RELATED: How we can use the spotlight of Vergara to raise teaching standards

So what about the children who defiantly choose not to learn, or miss school often? Is it fair that they count against a teacher’s evaluation, too? What about those teachers who are designated to teach only the low achieving students?

I know of many exceptional, caring teachers who have been given an ineffective score because of the population of students they have been assigned to teach. Should they be fired because of the scores of kids who have struggled with either math or reading since they began school?

Furthermore, teachers are not permitted access to former exams and given no guidelines to follow when preparing students. The secrecy is so blatant that State Education Departments have threatened serious consequences to any teacher who even attempts to note or memorize test contents. It’s not right and it is certainly not a level playing field of evaluation.

RELATED: Controversial data-driven research behind the California court’s decision to reject teacher tenure

I believe that the motive for Common Core State Standards is to bolster the fight against teacher tenure by assigning unfair “ineffective” labels to teachers hampered by the system.

People think tenure for a teacher implies lifetime job security. It does not. Tenure insures that teachers receive due process. For example, if the local school board is having budget issues, they cannot simply dismiss the higher paid teachers in order to hire younger ones at half the salary. Tenure also shields them from the constant attacks against not only their teaching ability but often their character.

Are there probably teachers who we all wish had chosen a different profession? Of course, there are. I had poor teachers and I’m sure you have, too. And yes, tenure did protect them from losing their jobs. I get it. Yet to jeopardize an entire profession’s employment stability because of the very few inept, would be a catastrophic decision.

RELATED: Where are most of California’s tenured teachers?

Tenure is the foundation of the education system in America. It tells the students, parents and administrators that we are here to stay and you had better get on with what we are trying to present as a solid education.

Does the pruning process hurt sometimes? You bet it does. But pruning a child requires effort, commitment, vision, and the tenacity to see the final result through. Support tenure. Protect our teachers
Dr. Lee Kronert is a math teacher and chiropractor from Porterville, New York. He is the author of Don’t Blame the Messenger, a pro-teacher novel.

The Hechinger Report provides in-depth, fact-based, unbiased reporting on education that is free to all readers. But that doesn't mean it's free to produce. Our work keeps educators and the public informed about pressing issues at schools and on campuses throughout the country. We tell the whole story, even when the details are inconvenient. Help us keep doing that.

Join us today.

Letters to the Editor

24 Letters

At The Hechinger Report, we publish thoughtful letters from readers that contribute to the ongoing discussion about the education topics we cover. Please read our guidelines for more information.

By submitting your name, you grant us permission to publish it with your letter. We will never publish your email. You must fill out all fields to submit a letter.

  1. There needs balance in the school system–I am a teacher, but I also had the experience of one of my daughters having a tenure teacher but was not doing her job because she knew she could not be fired. Also have seen as I have worked as a teacher.

  2. Once again the scope of tenure appears and mislead individuals believe that it used to save poor performing teachers which not its intent. Tenure is a probationary period like in many jobs and careers in which teachers have to prove that they a capable of doing their jobs. Administrators/supervisors have the opportunity to screen and dismiss teachers without reason any teacher that do not perform up to standards, if they administrators fail to do their jobs of properly screening these individuals then they should be held just as responsible as the teacher for not performing; so don’t through the ball at teachers and unions because administrators with the top salaries failed in their responsibilities. Another myth is that individuals who received top grades are going to be excellent teachers. Teaching is more the having knowledge it is the ability to transfer that knowledge to students in a way that the students can grasp what is being taught and go forth. There is also classroom management skills involved if you can’t manage your classroom , no amount of knowledge is going to make you a successful teacher; need I go further.

  3. Yes, the trouble students that refuse to learn should be part of a teacher’s evaluation. If teachers that can inspire students like that and can get them to learn, that should be part of their evaluation as well. I would hope that evaluation systems aren’t so short sighted that they don’t take past performance of the students into consideration.

    I think it’s a good thing that teachers aren’t permitted access to former exams and given no guidelines to follow when preparing students. Teaching to the test really doesn’t provide an accurate measure of the students’ abilities.

    There are almost always more than one student in a class. If the complaints from one student’s parents outweigh the non-complaints (or the occasional endorsement) of all the other parents, then school administration is stupid. If complaints are coming from many parents, then perhaps there might just be some credibility to the claim, and it’s not just a matter of ‘not liking what they see in the mirror’.

  4. Busting tenure will ruin the educational system. The tenure system protects experienced teachers with advanced degrees by guaranteeing they’ll keep their jobs when compared to poorly qualified teachers who will be paid less. Without the tenure system to protect them, teachers will no longer pursue higher degrees to increase their wages. That will reduce attendance at universities. If you want your kids sitting at a computer with a low-paid teacher’s aide in charge, then vote to bust tenure.

  5. The teachers are not to blame for the problems with tenure. It is the district who don’t want to investigate and act on it. Tenure is a right to a hearing and districts just blow them off and allow these bad apples to keep ruining the reputation of teachers.

  6. I am an adult student forced by a bad economy to go back to school. I recently had a chemistry professor who was tenure, talk about a sexual harassment charge brought against him (nothing was done), talk about his penis and that if we wanted to check out his “package” he wouldn’t blush, bring an very large knife to class and use it as a pointer and promptly remove his socks and shoes in the middle of class. Nothing was done to him until he finally put a hand on a student did the school finally take action and fire him. Tenure is bad, bad, bad. Just because you have tenure does not mean you can act like a BLEEPING A-HOLE and nothing be done to you.

  7. Just because a teacher has tenure does not mean they cannot be fired. If administrators did their jobs to ensure that a teacher who is not performing up to standards is evaluated (just like any other worker in any other sector) then they have begun the process that could lead to termination. Being given time to improve is typically written into professional development plans and if the performance does not improve, and if the administration has done their job and documented the poor performance according to agreed upon standards, then the employment of the teacher can be terminated. All tenure allows is, as the author of the article stated, that an employee may not be terminated without due process. And if the process was follow properly, then the termination will stand.

  8. Well written. (especially for a math teacher) haha. Seriously, Common Core is just another 5 year fad as are most all curriculum-administratively connected programs are (remember no child left behind?). They require staff to learn new complex procedures, record keeping protocols and a lot of time taken away from teaching subject matter. Retired now, I recall my later years being divided into 1/3 time slots, ( with no extra pay for added hours of administrative record keeping) 1. Record keeping, 2 teaching behavior, 3 teaching subject matter.

  9. This is one of the best explanations/justifications for teacher tenure that I have read. Please get this out to as many media outlets as possible as it explains the issue in a clear, concise manner.
    Also, has anyone else noticed that corporate America does the exact same thing? Whenever an employee dresses inappropriately or is incapable of doing his job, what happens? Corporate issues a “dress code policy” that corrects everyone’s behavior, not just the woman who dresses like a tramp. Or the incompetent employee’s responsibilities are given to someone else and he continues to keep his job.

  10. Not to mention the different path ways for teachers of color especially African Americans and of Mexican descent. Well, in most cases we are not hired because of who we know. And when an administrators get the notion to dislike you because of your skin color, they can make your job a living hell. There are many times we not only struggle to be respected as teachers but have even a greater problem when trying to move up the ladder into other positions. Yes, there is a need to have tenure because we do not live in a fair and just society.

  11. It’s cheaper to hire a new teacher. You pay them less. Tenure protects experienced teachers from being sacked and replaced by inexperienced teachers. I used to teach high school. You don’t even know how to teach and effectively manage a classroom, not really, until you’ve been doing it for three years. I spent my first year flailing, my second year compensating- and my third year figuring out what worked and what didn’t. It was smooth sailing from then on. Experienced teachers are gold. And they aren’t paid enough anyway. Don’t treat them any worse and with less respect than the system already does.

  12. First of all, I am a teacher and have been in several public school systems since my first job in January, 1979.

    The idea that tenure means a teacher cannot ever be fired is absolutely WRONG! Tenure means a teacher cannot be fired WITHOUT CAUSE! Without tenure, it would be too easy for administrators and school boards to get rid of the teachers who have been there for years (and thus cost more) and hire first year teachers (who cost less). ADMINISTRATORS WHO DO THEIR JOB CAN BUILD A BODY OF EVIDENCE THAT CAN LEAD TO A TEACHER BEING FIRED!!! Too often, the administrators are not willing to do the work required to get rid of a teacher. I have seen poor teachers counseled to find another job in a different district, so this just kicks the bad apple down the road. I have seen poor teachers counseled to become better teachers. I have seen poor teachers counseled and then removed from the teaching profession. It is all up to how the administrator handles it.

    What I hear is that it’s not fair for teachers to have such job protection when other professions do not have this. Well, it is also not fair that when teachers wish/need to change jobs, they are (more often than not) not rewarded for their experience like other professions are. Salary schedules are built with a maximum number of experience years awarded, so a 20 year veteran teacher who needs to move to another district (because of a spouse getting a different job), can often lose 15 years of experience on a salary schedule. Tell me another profession where you are treated as a new hire after 20 years of experience.

    Each profession has its rewards and drawbacks. The reward of having some job security is balanced by the drawback of a lower salary when you are in the teaching profession. Everyone thinks teachers make such a great salary…try being in a profession for over 30 years, having a masters degree, and making just over $50K per year. That is where I am. I am not complaining…I love teaching (when I actually get to do it), and do not regret my choice to become a teacher.

    I am not afraid of being evaluated. I welcome administrators, parents, other teachers, and school board members into my class whenever they would like to come. I am frustrated by the notion of a child determining whether I am competent or not. If you want to know if I am doing my job, come into my classroom any day, any time and see what is going on. It is incredibly frustrating for me when they can remember the sequence needed for a smart phone or tablet game, but can’t remember what 4 x 8 is. Students have no stake in the high stakes testing process. They aren’t going to get a grade, so why should they do their best. They are being tested to death, and every high stakes test takes away from instruction time. Students can also be vindictive…a teacher with high expectations can be made to look incompetent when the students decide to “throw” the test so the teacher looks bad. I have seen it happen.

    There are so many variables in teaching, and no two kids are alike. To try to make every child exactly the same is not only impossible, but ridiculous. And to try to make every child learn the exact same thing at the exact same age is also both impossible and ridiculous.

  13. Those that think teacher tenure is a free pass to keep bad teachers from getting fired are greatly mistaken. Bad tenured teachers get fired all the time. I have seen it for myself. The difference is that it provides a safety net for teachers that requires documentation and due process before losing their job. Without it, there would be teachers losing their jobs simply because a school district needs a new football coach that is certified in their teaching area, whether they are a great teacher or not.

  14. Busting tenure (which I have yet to earn) would completely destroy many positive aspects of our education system. Our experienced teachers deserve the right to due process. Quality and effective teaching is a joy to watch and learn from. This type of teaching does not develop over night, for mastering instruction is a process. So think about this, when the school board fires a twenty year veteran for cheaper labor, think about how the quality of your child’s education will decline. Our students stand to lose greatly if tenure is busted.

  15. Good luck getting good, qualified teachers to teach in inner cities or low income areas without tenure. Good luck getting future college graduates interested in getting credentialed and becoming a teacher. Who wants to invest thousands of dollars on an education only to have your future career tied to the test results of students who come into school behind, have no discipline at home, and don’t care about their future?

  16. I was a high school math teacher for 32 years and involved in supporting math teachers K-12 for seven. The problem with tenure is when it starts, not with tenure itself. Some states start tenure in two years, which is not long enough to tell whether a teacher will be effective. Other states start at five years, which I think is the right amount of time. Also, principals need better training in how to support and evaluate teachers, and teachers need more time to collaborate. The US is last among developed countries in this area.

  17. “Of course, there are. I had poor teachers and I’m sure you have, too. And yes, tenure did protect them from losing their jobs.”

    This is not correct. Tenure did not keep them in their positions. A poor administrator did. An administrator who either did not know how to or did not want to document performance problems, issue corrective action in the effort to help them improve and ultimately fire them if they were not able to improve. Contrary to the frequently repeated myth you can fire unionized employees. It just takes an administrator who is going to do his job. Don’t blame tenure for inadequate administrators. Start holding their feet to the fire.

  18. As much as teachers want to tell you that we should keep tenure and that bad teachers can be fired, it’s not something that happens ever. The principals and teachers know what teachers are incompetent. Do they ever report it? I reported one teacher several times. The kids LOVED him, because they did NOTHING. The principals would do nothing even though they knew this was the situation, and the teachers around him knew and did NOTHING. We wouldn’t be in this “lynch the teacher” mode if the administrators and the teachers started reporting the teachers they know are incompetent. As a parent, I shouldn’t have to document two years worth (unfortunately, that’s how long my daughter was stuck with him) of the teacher doing absolutely nothing. (He is so nice, was the argument). If teachers want to stop the backlash, they need to start helping build the case against the substandard teacher. After all, what’s the chances of those students ending up in your classroom? Sad that teachers and principals determine a teacher’s worth is greater than the students they have been entrusted.

  19. The states with strong unions perform at the top nationally. Removing tenure will not make schools better. If that were the case, many more of the states with the top performance would be ones where there is no union protection for teachers.

  20. I have worked in 2 different states. One state did not have tenure and the other did.

    In the state that did not have tenure, teachers were simply pushed around by administration. You had to agree with what ever the administration wanted. If you know some administrative decision was going to hurt children, you better keep your mouth shut and go along with it or else. If the star player on the football team was failing and the parent complained, you had better change the grade or else. The list goes on.

    In the state that did have tenure after 5 years of service, these problems do not exist. In other words, politics are removed from the system. Tenure does not give life time job security. Like all else have said, it only guarantees due process. It stops administration from firing a teacher that refuses to go along with a bad administrative choices. It stops intimidation over grades. The list goes on.

    I wish all would become educated on this topic before jumping on the “tenure” is the problem for our academic problems bandwagon.

  21. Comment on Comment: RE- Bill October 3oth, 2014 10:58 am
    Bill is apparently not very bright. His agnostic, invalid, misguided, inept, and limpid remarks show a tremendous lack of awareness and common sense. He sounds like just another illiterate trying to perform brain surgery at Stanford Medical with no validity, no reliability, and no skills. Some people are more appreciated with their mouth shut Bill. As for his comments Bill, Bill, Bill . . . “You can bring a horse to water, But you can’t make him drink it” Your attack made you look weak and inept. Teachers are the most legislated group of people on this planet. If you stacked all the laws one book after another in size 12 font it would reach over 7 feet high. You are not good enough to teach. You don’t truly know what dedication and commitment really is. You also don’t know that the administration of education has all but ruined discipline and structure in education. Try doing your homework “In-Depth” before you shoot your mouth off.

  22. I’m sorry, Lee Kronert. You did not do your basic homework. Nowhere in the US is tenure a job for life, nor no teacher can be fired. Tenure is nothing more than due process. Innocent until proven guilty. The requirement that there be an investigation into charges and not the ability to fire on a whim. I really wish that journalists would investigate before reporting.

  23. I graduated from a Los Angeles, California high school in the very early seventies. My 1970’s education was great, my school gave me the ability to go out in the world and make a good living. But, what has happened, did the teachers change? No, teachers are still teachers. What has changed is the student demographics, you have a lot of students who do not speak, read, or write English. Many will not try to learn either. That is a major problem.

    Now throw in poverty, gangs, drugs, pregnant teens, crime, abusive or no parents, etc. Tenure has nothing to do with these issues. Sounds more like social problems then tenure are hurting students ability to achieve. That’s what Colin Powell’s think tank said to. The issues affecting students ability to graduate are social issues combined with bad parenting. Powell’s think tank said nothing of the idea of bad teachers. This is something teachers have known all along.

Submit a letter

Your email address will not be published.