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?
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.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]
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.