The Michigan Legislature recently debated a modest teacher tenure
reform bill that passed in the Senate but then died when the House failed
to act. The issue will surely return in the 2011 session, and when it does,
lawmakers should consider the following:
Under current law, it is nearly impossible to fire a
tenured teacher, no matter how ineffective.
Everyone from Mackinac Center staff to Michigan Education
Association union members knows that all our public schools teachers are not above average, and indeed, some are
downright poor. No one disagrees that bad teachers should be removed, so the
only question is how.
The documentary film "Waiting for Superman"
provides some insights on the magnitude of the problem. It notes that
every year nationwide, one out of every 57 doctors and one of 97 lawyers
loses his or her license for malpractice. In contrast, only one out of every
2,500 unionized, public school teachers with tenure gets fired in any given
More evidence comes from the nation's second-largest public
school system, Los Angeles, which has over 45,000 teachers. Between 1990 and
2000, the district fired exactly
one tenured teacher. Any private-sector business operating in a
competitive marketplace that was this unresponsive to employee quality would certainly fail, but in
the public education sector, the consequences are instead imposed on students.
Michigan is hardly immune to the problem. School districts
here have kept tenured teachers on the payroll despite
felony convictions, and on the rare
occasion a school does manage to unload a deficient instructor, doing so can
require years of legal action costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer
School employee unions often defend tenure in terms of
"academic freedom" and "due process" protection from unjust firings. They argue
that educators may be victimized by poor principals who judge
them unfairly. However, for good reason, virtually no private-sector
employees are granted a comparable immunity from termination. Hardly
any private or charter schools grant teacher tenure, either. It is
encouraging that Michigan's largest school employee union at least talks the
talk on teacher
tenure reform; maybe the MEA realizes that good teachers have nothing
The institution of teacher tenure has become one
of the dysfunctions driving down our public education system. Rather
than a reasonable protector of good teacher's jobs, it is
nothing more than a guardian of incompetence. Tenure law should be reformed so
that good teachers move up and bad teachers move out.
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