Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm Thankful I Already Have Tenure

I can't say I'm too jazzed about the mayor's call to use test scores to make tenure decisions. As you know if you read my blog, I'm all for making teacher evaluation fairer, more circumspect, and more rigorous. But using test scores to make tenure decisions gets a big ol' thumbs-down from Miss Eyre, who, if she is thankful for anything this year, sure is thankful that she already earned (you bet your bottom dollar earned) tenure. [All of the arguments I'm about to put forth, by the way, assume that the test scores in question are even reliable and valid, which is its own kettle of fish, but let's play with this for a minute.]

First of all, most teachers suck in their first year or two. Okay, maybe suck is a strong word, but still, I doubt you'll see any teacher raising test scores three years in a row in his or her first three years. It isn't going to happen. It doesn't mean that person is never going to be a good teacher or even that he or she isn't already a good teacher. But it's pretty crazy to expect that a brand-new teacher is going to raise test scores that much that fast--if you believe that teachers raise test scores in the first place, which you may not.

Second of all, not every teacher has test scores to go by. What about arts teachers, or teachers not in testing grades? How will their tenure decisions be made? And, if by some other method than test scores, why not make all tenure decisions that way?

And if you start asking those questions, you can see where this move will take us: the abolition of tenure altogether. And I still believe in tenure, by the way. I think it should be earned, and I don't think it should provide lifetime job protection under any circumstance, but I do believe in its existence and preservation. Moreover, I believe in granting it more sparingly. Principals probably should tenure fewer teachers. Maybe the probationary period should be longer. But, once earned, it should be, more or less, sacred. Because if you want to toughen the requirements to earn tenure--and that's not necessarily a bad idea--then it should be all the more difficult to take away, to cast aside on a whim, or on one dubious accusation.

I rarely get into questions of what the union should do, but here I wonder if the UFT shouldn't play ball with the DOE somewhat. Sure, toughen tenure requirements. We won't go for test scores alone, but we can come up with a portfolio, menu, whatever you want to call it that would make it harder for any warm body to earn tenure. But in return, tenure must be protected, respected, sustained--not just in the name of job protection, but in the name of continuity, stability, and academic freedom for both kids and adults. I'm not sure how that isn't a win-win for everyone. But if the DOE squirms on a good-faith offer on this from the union, you'll see what they really want (which, I suspect, is a way to ditch unpopular and/or expensive teachers).

Well, I'm off to get turkified, and when my family talks about what they're thankful for this year, I'll be sure to add "tenure" to my list.
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