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As his latest comments show, Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Chas Roemer has it completely backwards … by his musing about not running for reelection.
Rather, more than ever educational progress in Louisiana desperately needs officials like him, as demonstrated when Roemer opined in a letter to legislators that the state needs to end tenure. As it is now, after a three-year probationary period, a teacher in a traditional public school in Louisiana gains access to procedures that make it difficult to fire even for cause. Witness the samples for the latest reporting period of 2007-08 that show 97.6 percent of tenured teachers retained their job in the state, as did 98.8 percent of those in the probationary period when it is easier to fire them for cause.
Statistically, these results advance two largely contradictory conclusions. They may indicate that, with the overwhelming proportion of teachers apparently performing adequately, that the profession in Louisiana – much like that of state employment – highly disproportionately attracts quality individuals. On its face that determination seems dubious, and descends into the laughable when considering how Louisiana scrapes the bottom in student achievement both in absolute and relative terms.
Therefore, the alternative hypothesis seems much more plausible – rules regarding retention of teachers encourage poor performers to remain the system and likely are one factor that contributes to poor student performance. While other factors no doubt play a role here also and likewise beg for reforms – such as providing incentive to perform better through merit pay and regular subject area competency testing to weed out those too ignorant in the areas they teach – tenuring makes it more difficult to remove substandard teachers because of the extra resources devoted to that process to overcome the greater ability to resist by the incompetent afforded by those rules.
This assumes, of course, that administrators actually want to relieve low performers of their duties. They may well not, because they’re buddies with the person, from some kind of sympathy such as for those in the twilight of their careers, it would be a hassle to deal with a vacancy, of political pressure from elected officials such as those on the school board, etc. These attitudes would exist without tenure, but at least in clear-cut cases where removal is desired, the numbers indicate tenure must inhibit – especially since apparently those with fewer protections are less likely to be terminated, suggesting that some substantial portion of tenured teachers coast beginning some period after getting it, some so egregiously that administrators feel compelled to go to the trouble of engaging in the onerous dismissal process.
But statistics ignore the theoretical reason why tenure really is not necessary at this level of instruction. The concept gives protection to those whose work relies in part on production of ideas, to prevent discouragement of production of those ideas out of fear these producers will be evaluated politically by those with power over their employment and by elected officials. However, while that may apply to those involved in higher education, where research can be a necessary component of the job, at lower levels of education the mission solely is instruction. Without that component to the job, there’s no reason a regime like five-year contracts with failure to reappoint based upon objective measures of quality teaching cannot provide as much protection from arbitrary, non-cause-related personnel actions as does tenure.
Further, contemplated policy actions in other states show they recognize the costs of tenure at this level of education exceed its benefits. This year alone, several are opting to pursue major overhauls of it, or even wanting to eliminate it entirely. Roemer rightly suggests that Louisiana join them.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 07:45