I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Tenure Boogeyman!

One of our recurring cast of characters here at the Jazzman has been the Merit Pay Fairy:

Yo, whassup?

The Merit Pay Fairy lives in the minds of corporate reformers, who believe the Fairy can magically wipe away the "achievement gap" with a mere wave of her wand. Don't bother trying to explain to these corporate reformers that the Merit Pay Fairy doesn't exist; like Linus in the pumpkin patch, they fervently wait for the Fairy to show up. And they get very cross and stamp their little feet when she disappoints them again and again.

Well, I think it's time we add another character to our little friends' imaginary, reformy lives. Boys and girls, meet the Tenured Boogeyman!
Yarggh! I'm going to eat your school!

Scary, huh? Yes, the Tenured Boogeyman hides under the beds of good little corporate reformers like Michelle Rhee and Chris Christie. He lurks in the closets of superintendents like Jeanine Caffrey of Perth Amboy and Cami Anderson of Newark. He's big and he's mean and he's... uh...

Huh, that's funny: he's no where to be seen in high-performing, low-poverty school districts. I mean, they all have tenure, and unions, and step guides, and no Merit Pay Fairies, and all the other evils of modern education. But they somehow manage to be among the best schools in the nation, let alone the world.

How could that possibly be? After all, "even the liberal" (sigh...) Star-Ledger says:
It is hard to imagine a law that could do more damage to poor children in urban districts than the tenure law. It ensures that bad teachers stay in place, inflicting lasting damage on one classroom full of kids after another, year after year.
AHHHHH!!!!! Run, run, RUN! The Tenured Boogeyman is coming! It's "lasting" damage! All those "bad" teachers with jobs for life...

Wait a minute: didn't I read somewhere that Newark has actually been able to get rid of "bad" teachers before?

Still, most agreed that the small numbers of tenure charges filed with the state are really only a fraction of the cases of low-performing teachers for whom the formal filing is a last resort, a vast majority of them eased out of the classroom as the complaints mount.
'You don’t see these statistics, but I would say that hundreds of teachers who receive the first tenure charges resign,” said Eugene Liss, general counsel to the Newark Teachers Union. "Maybe the case didn’t go all the way to Trenton, but many who sit with us, they end up leaving the profession."
Newark has a system in which teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings are required to undergo additional training through Seton Hall University. Last year, it was 90 teachers, all but 12 of whom returned to the classroom, he said. Those 12 all resigned, none by tenure charges. [emphasis mine]
So Anderson is whining about 100 members out of a certificated staff of 3933 in the entire district (yes, "certificated" is a real word). That's around 2.5%. And more than 10% of those "bad" teachers were counseled out without a tenure hearing in a single year.

And the money: $8.5 million in a budget of nearly $1 billion; less than 1%. Not peanuts by any means, but still...

This is the big crisis? This is the law that's doing such damage? Come on; even if all the myths about tenure were true, this would not be nearly the problem Moran says it is.

And those myths definitely are not true. Tenure has never been shown to have an effect on teacher performance. Tenure is needed to prevent corruption in places like Elizabeth. Districts win tenure cases over teachers 3-to-1. And there's no reason tenure hearings can't be streamlined and made far less expensive; even the unions are for that.

The sad truth is when corporate reformers worry about tenure, they are distracting themselves from much bigger problems: poverty, racism, economic insecurity, lack of pubic infrastructure, immigrant assimilation, lack of school funding stability, inequity, and a host of other issues that aren't nearly as easy to fix as this small tenure problem.

That's not to say tenure shouldn't be fixed, and that the law shouldn't be improved; it should. But, many times, children work themselves up about the Boogeyman simply because they don't want to go to bed; they make a big deal about a little fear to distract themselves from what really needs to be done. Sure, turn on the night-light - but shut your eyes and go to sleep.

Yes, let's improve tenure - but let's get serious about what really needs to be done to improve the lives of children.


Teacher Mom said...

Thank you! Of course nobody wants to get serious about the real problems in the cities. Solving those problems takes real money, and the ability to actually give a crap about the less fortunate. Something conservatives don't/can't do.

So, not to toot my own horn, but a special ed teacher in the city like myself will end up on the chopping block while some brain dead ninnny taking up space with good test scores in a suburban school will keep theirs. I always say that my suburban classes had great scores in spite of me, not because of me. I'm 10 times the teacher I was. In the city you have to be just to survive. (not disparaging suburban teachers, all the ones I worked with were AWESOME. We had a great principal who made sure of that.)

Anonymous said...

Jazzman....see....you have all these cute cartoons, and give screaming defense of tenure (not giving an inch, as the NJEA did for years) and suddenly:

"That's not to say tenure shouldn't be fixed,..."

You are much like the NJEA (to state the obvious). Years of a Masada defense....suddenly....NJEA reform bills! Tenure needs reform! Merit pay sounds good! Teacher evaluations, let's get on board!

Can you see why, despite you're compelling cartoons, people find you and the NJEA hypocritical? Maybe the cartoons put you right where you should be?

Duke said...

Anon: let's say you are absolutely right, and I am a "screaming" hypocrite:

Does that change any of the arguments I've made?

Anonymous said...

Which ones? The ones that say tenure needs to be reformed, or the ones that say it doesn't?

I think it is kind of a stacked deck arguing agaisnt someone on both sides of the debate.

Duke said...

Find one post on this blog where I say tenure shouldn't be improved. Just one.

czarejs said...

@Anon......ahhh we're still waiting.

Duke said...

czarejs, don't hold your breath - it's not there.

But it doesn't matter, because if I say we have a problem but that's it's being blown way out of proportion and can be easily solved, that makes me a hypocrite. Or something. It's confusing...

Anonymous said...

You ceaselessly mock the people and institutions who want tenure reform, drawing little cartoons, etc.

The you grudgingly admit sotto voce that tenure needs to be reformed.

So why are these reformy types so childishly mocked by you, if you are the same side of the issue? You never mock them saying "these evil-money grubbing reformy a%%oles who want 4.5 years before tenure, unlike me, bringer of light and wisdom, who want 3.75".

czarejs said...

@anon.... I'll tell you why. When you and your ilk use the term "reform" you use it as a precursor to abolishment. We are talking about a small percentage of the thousands of public school teachers in New Jersey and "reformers" call for a complete revamping of the system. Only when you talk among yourselves does anyone believe your ultimate goal is actual reform or helping kids.

Anonymous said...

lol.....that's it? All the hundreds of hours you have put in bashing reformers is because you sort of think they may want more reform than you in a grey area sense?

Isn't putting forward a legislative bill with specific reforms, as opposed to "abolishment", give you a CLUE that we are talking reforms (like you?), and not "abolishment"?

I think the word "tenure" should be abolished. I think teachers should have individual contracts, with mandated protections for themselves (crafted by the unions) and performance protection for kids and the schools and for the taxpayers. Maybe not every teacher wants the lifetime committment that currently binds a teacher to a school. Maybe they want five years or three years or ten years. As it approaches the end of the term they can reassess -- maybe their older husband can retire and move to Florida. Maybe they want to teach somewhere else, move near their kids, get away from the winter.

Tenure is a life sentence, with no time off for bad behavior.

Anonymous said...

Teachers already do have individual contracts which they have to sign. If the anti-tenure anon means that each teacher should go before the school board and or administrators to negotiate their individual contracts on their own, that would be stupid. One lone teacher trying to negotiate his/her contract on his/her own would be an exercise in folly when teachers have fought so many years for unions and fair bargaining rights. Contrary to right wing propaganda, the NJEA is not a criminal organization, it's a union and its main job is to represent teachers, within all the legal restrictions, obstructions and road bumps placed in its way. The local association does the actual contractual negotiating with the school board. This mad drive to get rid of tenure is just part of the right wing movement to kill off the union. Union busting is the real goal of the billionaire reformers.

Susan said...

It shouldn't be called "tenure" anyway. What teachers have are the identical civil protections police and fire personnel have. "Tenure" is a term properly reserved for college and university personnel, public or private.