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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Frank Bruni Wants Lower Quality Public School Teachers

Frank Bruni Wants Lower Quality Public School Teachers

Tuesday, 19 August 2014 07:17

That's what can be inferred from his column calling for an end to tenure for public school teachers. Job security is part of the pay package for public school teachers. If they can expect less job security, it effectively amounts to a cut in pay. This would be expected to make teaching a less attractive career path compared with the alternative choices.

As a practical matter, there are few (if any) school districts that do not have provisions that allow even tenured teachers to be fired if they are not competent. This may not happen in many cases because their principals are too lazy to document the incompetence, or the higher ups in the school district don't provide them the resources they would need to ensure that classes are being well-taught. These latter problems will not be addressed by the ending of tenure.

Comments (17)Add Comment
written by djb, August 19, 2014 7:38
"their principals are too lazy to document the incompetence"

so lets grade on a curve and the distribution of grades will be the same for all classes meaning all teachers appear identical
written by Squeezed Turnip, August 19, 2014 9:50
The school system also reduces it's risk (financial and social) by grooming teachers worthy if tenure. Getting rid of tenure would increase costs to public school systems everywhere (good private schools will not follow suit) in a variety of ways: the quality of applicant pools will decrease, turnover (already bad) will skyrocket, and outcomes will decline even further. No, getting rid of tenure is not the answer.

If Bruni thinks principals are lazy, why not start with them? US universities develop excellent teaching methods for many subjects but these methods are only adopted in other countries not in the US, because the administrative structure is now modeled on corrupt corporate governance.
Ending tenure is ruinous because:
written by Dave, August 19, 2014 10:03
Teaching is largely a closed system. There are only so many jobs, and without some hope of isolation from malicious or misplaced authority and judgement, a long career could be ruined in an instant. This does not provide for a good investment of one's career hopes.

I think the tenure rules could be tweaked. There are some bad apples. I think everyone knows of at least one bad apple from their childhood.

But the hope that a freer market can fix this seems pretty delusional.
Tenure doesn't need tweaking
written by Mark, August 19, 2014 11:04
Tenure is just due process to protect against "malicious or misplaced authority", as Dave pointed out. What these "reformers" usually leave out is that principals have 2 or 3 years of probationary status where a teacher can be fired for any reason. A principal can't tell within 3 years if someone is fit for the classroom? And as Dean pointed, every school district has the ability to fire teachers. The principal in the article was a teach for America alumni. This is one of the main goals of "reformers"; replace expensive, union protected teachers with young, cheap college graduates who can be replaced every 2 or 3 or 4 years who don't care about unions.
written by dick c, August 19, 2014 11:11
"This would be expected to make teaching a less attractive career path compared with the alternative choices." This is probably viewed as a short term problem. I expect that making the alternative choices less attractive is already on the agenda as part of the greater solution. Maybe I mean "dissolution."

I'm kidding of course, but...
written by djb, August 19, 2014 11:52
also school systems will use lack of tenure to fire experience teachers who are paid more and force the wage scale down

written by Dave, August 19, 2014 11:56
Thank you for correcting me. I wasn't fully aware of the procedures available to principals to remove tenured teachers.

Perhaps we just need higher turnover in the principal jobs -- or just more accountability. Principals are administrators and can find work elsewhere if fired. Teaching is a skilled trade, and good teachers deserve a lot more respect than bad principals.
written by Last Mover, August 19, 2014 12:02

It's not a stretch to say those in the .1% and .01% have tenure in the form of a fixed glide path to guaranteed increases in huge wealth for a lifetime. There is no one who can fire them.

Most of them in one way or other are economic predators who take rather than make - they don't add economic value, they primarily collect economic rent instead.

By any reasonable standard they are surely as guilty as non-performing teachers with tenure for preventing economic growth in whatever way.

The press doesn't call them out like they do teachers, because there is comparatively few of them and their death grip on the economy is carefully designed to be invisible to the press.

On rare occasions they and their underlings are outed into the public for all to witness their ability to think on their feet, where it is readily apparent some could never attain teacher tenture status.

Yet they get the same free pass as bad teachers with tenure, except with a license to destroy hundreds of billions in growth rather than dull the minds of students in their classroom.
written by Mark, August 19, 2014 12:26
@Dave, as DB said, principals often are lazy/incompetent or overwhelmed with mandates to effectively document bad teachers.

The principal in the article laments how difficult it is for him because teachers don't have his vision, yet because of tenure, he's stuck with them. What if his vision is teaching to a multiple choice test? Or not allowing novels, only informational texts, to prepare students for a "globalized economy"? Those are visions most parents probably wouldn't want teachers to follow.
Here's a great comment
written by ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©, August 19, 2014 12:42
I posted your link (as I often do) at the site in question (Bruni's blog commments, in this case).

Saw this one there:

Leo Lucas Los Angeles 10 hours ago

I've taught public school here for many years. When I hear the word "amazing" applied to to the vision of a stellar corps of educators, I cringe because it is reform-speak cant and not real language. There are more teachers than all other professions put together. To claim that ending tenure will result in a field populated by only the above average or amazing is to claim the Lake Woebegone Effect. Likewise, the use of the word "tenure" carries a connotation of privilege when what it really means is due process under the law before they can fire you.

Teachers have many constituencies: students, parents, administrators, peers, the public, the press. It's not unreasonable to expect conflicts to arise among this disparate group as they advance their agendas. Demands are made, programs come and go, players change. Guess who gets caught in the middle of this? What happens when you can't please them all but you know anyone of them could get you fired? Is due process a privilege then? Excellence in teaching doesn't come from hard-nosed, top-down regimes. Take a look at Elizabeth Green's new book, "Building a Better Teacher" to get an idea of what it really takes to have many more excellent teachers, and it has nothing to do with ending tenure.
Tenure doesn't have to be part of the pay package, Low-rated comment [Show]
written by PeonInChief, August 19, 2014 1:22
Several years ago the president of the AFT noted that it was becoming more difficult to attract good candidates to become teachers, and it's not hard to see why. No one wants to enter a profession that's bashed on a daily basis, that doesn't pay very well given the education required and that demands you be "on" for seven hours a day. The US got used to cheap female labor at a time when women had few other options, and we haven't been able to wrap our little heads around the notion that if you want good teachers, you have to treat them with respect and pay them well. The demise of tenure won't deal with the desire for cheap labor. In fact, it will probably make it worse.

Also pathetically bad teachers are nothing new. I can count the number of really good teachers I had K-12 on the fingers of one hand, with fingers left over. And this was a fair number of years ago.
written by Mark, August 19, 2014 1:25
@Rgenz - couple of problems. What evidence is there of complacency? Principals who work with teach for America? While there are problems in our schools, the best predictor of academic success is the educational attainment of the parents and their zip code. Maybe teacher complacency isn't the problem, but the more than 20% of children living in poverty.

Also, from reading DB, he talks up the need for a more unionized workforce as a way to increase pay. Hard to see how increasing job insecurity will lead to higher pay; won't it just make it easier to fire people and higher someone else at a lower wage?
Who Gets Fired for Ineffectiveness?
written by jerseycityjoan, August 20, 2014 5:27
I am not anti-teacher at all.

Still, I cannot remember the last time I heard about a tenured teacher being left go because they just weren't that good at teaching. The reasons will always have something to do with another issue, not their teaching abilities.

With the union-elections-local politics-Democratic politics and government job connections all present here and intertwined, there's a good bit of tolerance for the intolerable. The job and its security ends up being treated as a possession owned by the adult teacher, not as something to benefit the kids.
Evidence of complacencyt problem
written by Richard Genz, August 20, 2014 9:54
@Mark I haven't studied the problem, but I suspect there is one. I did find hard evidence of teacher failure--evidence that has stood up in court.

In June 2014 the California Superior Court struck down CA tenure laws. The judge found "compelling evidence" that "grossly ineffective teachers" can deprive students of significant lifetime earnings. He said there is "no dispute" that a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers work in California classrooms, citing a State expert witness who estimates 1-3% of California teachers are ineffective (2,750-8,250 teachers).

The judge also cited a 2007 study by CA Dept of Ed which found that ineffective and unqualified teachers work disproportionately in minority schools.

The judge cited evidence that it can cost between $50k and $400k to remove an ineffective teacher in a process that can take 2 to 10 years.


Is the judge's decision fair? I can't say. But there's a debate worth having here. (a perennial one, I know)

btw I didn't suggest that less security would *lead* to higher pay. I meant that teachers might be willing to trade higher pay, if offered, for less security.
written by PeonInChief, August 20, 2014 10:33
@Richard Genz: The decision has serious problems, the most notable one being that the teachers accused of being ineffective teachers weren't. One of them, in fact, was named Teacher of the Year in Pasadena. "Ineffective teachers" are largely determined by test scores, which are lower in mostly minority schools for reasons that have nothing to do with the teacher. Indeed test scores are almost entirely correlated with parental income. In California the most effective way to raise test scores would be to increase parental incomes and deal with our affordable housing crisis--problems teachers can't solve.
Texas without tenure
written by Ho Ho, August 20, 2014 5:18
You will never see evolution mentioned in schoolrooms again. Noah and family ate dinosaur meat to survive will be in the curriculum. The world? Well, there they go again. It 's flat, as anyone can plainly see. There is only one text book: The Bible.

Those are the types of freaks that want to get rid of tenure here. Know what you're up against, America. King Perry will be glad to administrate legislator selection for you, too.

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Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.