In their misguided efforts to enact school reform over the past year, government officials have routinely targeted teachers. First came the calls for merit pay, then a wave of mass teacher firings. Now tenure is under attack.
The state of Colorado is leading a national movement to tie teacher tenure to student performance. Under a new Colorado law, student performance will count for half of a teacher’s annual evaluation. Teachers need three consecutive years of positive evaluations to earn tenure. Tenured teachers who receive two poor evaluations will lose it.
Proponents of the law fail to realize that a student’s academic success depends on a variety of factors. Even the most dedicated and talented teachers will face difficulty when dealing with such obstacles as unmotivated students, uncooperative parents or unsupportive administrators.
I support tenure because it protects teachers from the many people who have the power to jeopardize a teacher’s job. Teachers are observed and evaluated regularly by students, parents, administrators and school board members. If a teacher disappoints, fails to impress, or antagonizes just one of these interested parties, his or her job could be at risk. And tenure does not guarantee job security. Although it is more difficult to discharge teachers with tenure, they can be dismissed for legitimate reasons, typically related to serious misconduct or job performance.
The recent developments in Colorado reflect the Obama administration’s push toward evaluating teachers based on student test scores. Further movement in this direction will be detrimental to students. The pressure on teachers to produce acceptable standardized test scores is forcing them to spend more time on test preparation strategies and less time on creative and intellectual activities that motivate and excite students. In addition, the focus on testing will widen the achievement gap. High-achievers will spend time on enriching activities, such as music and art, while at-risk students focus on test-taking skills.