Concept of tenure does not have simple solutions

Whether U.S. Department of Education officials should abolish tenure for professors has been at debate for years. It is difficult to decipher whether or not lack of tenure for teachers in lower education leads to problems within modern-day education.

There are many compelling arguments in support of allowing teachers to gain tenure, asserting that teachers serve a role that enhances positive development of students and thusly deserve job security.

On Feb. 7, Betsy DeVos, a businesswoman, noted political contributor and philanthropist, was confirmed as secretary of education. DeVos has been devoted to expanding educational choice so that all parents, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or family income, can be free to choose a learning environment that they think works best for their kids.

DeVos firmly supports the notion that parents of students who attend kindergarten to 12th grade should be able to enroll their kids in schools that match their needs, whether they want their kids to attend public or private schools. Voters and politicians, however, were not convinced that she had the necessary experience to control the nation’s public school systems.

Many people are skeptical that a woman with minimal experience in public schools was selected as secretary of education. Neither DeVos nor any of her children have ever attended public school. The New York Times reported that she has also never taken out a student loan, yet she will be in control of student loans for undergraduate and graduate students.

As a Times op-ed written by a former New York City public school teacher states, “If teacher tenure is an important obstacle to achievement, Mississippi (with no teacher tenure) should have stellar schools and Massachusetts (with teacher tenure) should have failing ones. Instead, it’s the other way around. Correlation is not causation, of course, but across the country, the states without tenure are at the bottom of performance rankings. States with the highest-achieving public schools have tenure (and teacher unions).” The op-ed further argues that teacher tenure laws should be strengthened since the number of teachers is growing exponentially, especially in cities.

Critics argue that tenure can provide an incentive to underperform, making it a tedious process to get rid of underperforming teachers. The costs of firing a public school teacher are huge—$219,000 in Illinois and $250,000 in New York.

The “Rubber Rooms” scandal in New York also presents an argument against tenure. The Rubber Rooms are temporary reassignment centers in which teachers whose teaching privileges had been revoked were still protected by tenure. Some were in the Rubber Rooms for incompetence and even molesting students, yet still accrued pensions and benefits during their time there.

Tenure is a difficult issue that does not have a simple solution. It will definitely be a difficult law to establish considering the amount of criticism it garners and the new secretary of education lacks much experience in the field.