Why Keep Teacher Tenure?

By Craig Waddell

Over the past several years, a vast array of politicians, organizations, and individuals have shown grave concern over the academic decline of K-12 education in the U.S. Citing poor achievement compared to our peers internationally, an abysmal graduation rate, and the lack of basic skills among those who do graduate, critics place the blame on ineffective teaching.

Caught in the crosshairs of this debate is teacher tenure. The prevailing line of reasoning is that if tenure were abolished, bad teachers would be supplanted by more effective educators.

Many reformers say education should be handled “like a business.” So how do businesses and other professions attain excellence? The answer is: quality control. Quality control is a multifaceted approach aimed at defect prevention, detection, recall, and correction. The earlier a problem is detected, the cheaper it is to correct the defect, but no matter how stringent the quality control process is, some defective products invariably slip into the distribution cycle.

When considering the problem of ineffective teachers, we must begin with the dichotomy of prevention vs. treatment. Manufacturing defects are prevented through quality control and treated through recalls and repairs; diseases are prevented through vaccinations and treated through prescriptions. Both preventions and treatments come in many varieties. Prevention is almost always preferred over treatment.

Using the prevention vs. treatment dichotomy, let’s dissect the rather nebulous term “bad teachers” into a set of attributes and consider various interventions. And then let’s look at tenure and see whether it should be taken away.

Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.