Teacher tenure debate echoes from Capitol to state house to web

This weekend several thousand supporters of public schools - perhaps in the tens of thousands - will descend on the nation's capital to rally and march in protest over the state of public education.

Headlined by actor Matt Damon, the Save Our Schools event is framed by a list of demands organizers have created that include an end to high stakes testing, equitable funding for all public schools and educator input in the drafting of the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

But looming over the proceedings, no doubt, is perhaps the biggest labor issue confronting education today - teacher tenure.

A source of friction for more than a decade between teachers and parents, taxpayers and lawmakers as well as students - the issue seems to have become even bigger in recent months.

Proposals to eliminate teacher tenure or drastically scale back its application have recently been adopted in a number of states including Michigan, Indiana, Florida, Idaho and Nevada.

And just this week, the New York City Department of Education - using more restrictive evaluation guidelines - reported just 58 percent of teachers eligible for tenure this year will receive it.

That drop, a spokesman for the city's teachers' union said, was more likely the result of principals being unable to perform the needed evaluations - not as a result of poor performance.

To add to the debate, Procon.org - one of the web's leading sources of nonpartisan content - unveiled this week a page devoted to the teacher tenure question.

The seven-year old website presents nearly 8,000 arguments on both sides of 42 major political and public policy issues vetted by a staff of research specialists.

Here's a sample of the viewpoints collected on the teacher tenure issue:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg - For too long, the tenure evaluation process for both principals and teachers has been a formality - a rubber stamp.

With more budget cuts looming, principals across the country will have no choice but to make layoffs based only on seniority - so their newest teachers would be the first ones to go, even if they happen to be the best teachers. That makes no sense."

New York State United Teachers - "In these fiscally troubled times, what would stop a school board from replacing a veteran teacher at the top of the pay scale with a first-year teacher - simply to save money? Tenure is the first line of defense against attacks on academic freedom. Teachers can engage their students in a free exchange of ideas only if they are protected from arbitrary dismissal for doing so."

Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of schools in Washington D.C. - "Once a teacher has tenure, in most states that teacher essentially has a job for life regardless of performance, making the practice of tenure a barrier to separating teachers who are ineffective and unable to improve."

Michael E. Kramer, counsel to the Georgia Association of Educators - "Tenure laws are not holding back other states from achieving education reform or student progress and achievement. In fact, Mississippi is the only state that has no statutory protections providing a due process hearing for teachers. Mississippi ranks lowest in most educational measures."

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek -"Even if we replace just the bottom six percent of teachers with average teachers, we will see dramatic results in student achievement. Tenure makes it very difficult to do even this."

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, a California Regional Teacher of the Year - "Without tenure, our vulnerability might influence our choices, allowing our fear of standardized test scores to drive our curriculum, rather than adding the critical-thinking skills into our lessons that we know our students truly need."

To visit the Procon.org teacher tenure site click here:

http://teachertenure.procon.org/

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