Tenure flunks fair treatment for teachers

by Chris Pocock

Melodie Lapot / Staff Artist
Melodie Lapot / Staff Artist

It takes guts to be a new teacher these days. Nearly every sector of the economy has been hit hard in the wake of California’s increasing deficit, but teachers are undeniably among those hit the hardest. More than 68,000 pink slips have been issued to teachers in the last three years alone. Back in my day, we gave teachers apples. Apparently, now we flood them with pink slips and call it a day.

Although I’d like to square most of the blame on the government for that one, there’s a larger, more rampant problem. It’s nearly always those new to the game getting the boot. The educational system, in its infinite wisdom, produced a practice known as educational tenure, which guarantees that younger and less experienced teachers are the ones targeted by layoffs and displacement. The trouble is such layoffs aren’t based on quality; some of the best teachers have been laid off and displaced to other schools merely because they hadn’t hit tenure. Instead, seasoned teachers are essentially fireproof, making any attempt to fire them a difficult and costly one, and rarely solved outside the courtroom. In layman’s terms, they’re golden.

Even aside from the horror stories of tenured teachers reaching seniority and going off the deep end (there are many), problems exist. It’s simple logic: When there’s no competition and no threat to one’s career, there’s essentially no motivation to challenge oneself to perform better. Teachers can have the same outdated and archaic lesson plans they’ve had for years.

I’m not going to claim there’s no reason behind tenure; there certainly is. But it, like so many well-intentioned systems, has so many flaws that it reeks like last month’s forgotten lunchbox. Sure, tenure has good qualities — It offers job protection to teachers who could possibly be targeted for their age, and to anyone who takes a stand against a power-hungry principal or superintendent. But the scores of problems involved have run the system into the ground faster than you can spell f-l-u-n-k-i-n-g.

It’s time we teach the education system a few lessons. California already has the second worst student to teacher ratio in the continental U.S. Even further, California suffers from 25 percent of its students being “English learners,” a 20 percent dropout rate in high schools and, when adjusted using comparable wage index, ranks 43rd in per-pupil spending. If our state received grades for education, we’d be an “F” student.

Obviously, change is in order. So what can we do to lift California from the educational cesspool it’s found itself in? First of all, we need to alter tenure from a permanent condition to something that must be renewed every few years. Think about it — every other career is subject to layoffs. But it’s nearly always the least efficient workers who are laid off first, not just the youngest. With capitalism — which to our country is among the most American of ideologies — it’s survival of the fittest, the brightest, those who contribute the most. It’s not survival of the oldest.

What this means, of course, is that we must constitute a rating system for teachers. This solution is often viewed as downright blasphemous by teachers, and for obvious reasons: Measuring teaching quality is immensely problematic because education is a compounding process. Students’ educations, after all, are the sum of everything every teacher has ever taught before them. Simply looking at a student’s test scores gives no indication as to the teachers who challenged them versus those who did not.

But there are possible methods. Teachers can be peer-reviewed by other teachers, along with their respective principals. Parents too should have a say; most parents generally have an idea whether or not their kids aren’t being adequately educated.

There’s no easy way to say it, but education needs to be taken more seriously by this country. Considering the already poor ratio of students to teachers, there’s no reason we should be laying off teachers in California in the first place. Whether that means more taxes from already tax-ravaged Californians or more funding from the federal government, it doesn’t matter. It’s high time our education system in California stops receiving a failing grade. Otherwise, get ready for a whole lot of rotten apples.

— Chris Pocock is a journalism junior with no plans to become a teacher anytime soon.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.

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