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Reimagining tenure reform from a teacher's perspective: teachers support changes in tenure, as long as they're changes that strengthen the profession and improve opportunities for students.

If we want to attract the best and brightest and those with the biggest hearts into the profession that educates all others, we must show today's college graduates that they have something to look forward to if they choose to be a teacher. We want them to know that teaching is intrinsically gratifying but that there also are tangible rewards and recognition that teachers matter.

A reinvigorated and purposeful tenure system could provide answers to some big problems plaguing education: teacher quality, differentiated professional development and pathways for teachers, and attracting and retaining teachers through better support systems and recognition. A weak tenure system has led to a weak pathway for overall professional growth and recognition within the teaching profession, playing into misconceptions of teachers and teacher unions as entitled defenders of the status quo. A weak tenure system also has led to the decline of new college graduates going into the profession. New graduates see how teachers are scrutinized and know there is not a rigorous process to help them become better teachers. Why would you put yourself under the scalpel if no viable treatment options exist?

Although popular public opinion seems to blame teachers unions for any problems with tenure, teachers actually support changes that would preserve but strengthen the tenure system. In the last year, two teacher leadership policy groups--Teach Plus and Educators4Excellence--have separately surveyed teachers to learn their attitudes and desires about tenure. The surveys revealed:

* 81% of teachers surveyed said tenure is important to them personally (Stryer et al., 2015, p. 3).

* 82% of teachers said tenure decisions come too early in a teacher's career to be meaningful (Educators4Excellence, 2015, p. 11).

* 65% of teachers said tenure decisions should happen between years three and five of a teacher's career (Stryer et al., p. 5).

* 92% of teachers said teachers should be required to demonstrate classroom effectiveness as part of the tenure decision (Stryer et al., 2015, p. 6).

So what kind of tenure system would teachers create if they were sitting at policy-making tables in states across the country?

Educators4Excellence tried to answer that question by assembling teachers to explore possibilities. The final report from that group, Reimagining Tenure: Protecting Our Students and Our Profession, sets forth a process that we believe benefits teachers and students. This process would include several key components:

States would have a distinct role in granting tenure. Just as states oversee the guidelines and requirements for teachers earning their teaching certificate or license, they also should set preconditions and confirm successful completion for teachers granted tenure. An important caveat is that state education codes should require teachers to have earned their credential or teaching license before tenure is granted.

States should be the authorizing body of teacher tenure. If tenure is conferred by the state, instead of local school districts, teachers would have the ability to move freely within their state throughout their career. This would ensure that no matter where a student resides in a particular state, they would have a quality teacher because of the consistent expectation in the tenure process.

Set a minimum for years of experience. An important first step to reimagining permanent status in a teacher tenure system is setting a minimum requirement for years spent in the classroom. In teaching, experience matters. Across many proposals, including those from active classroom teachers, three to five years of successful classroom experience before tenure eligibility is a common recommendation (Educators4Excellence, 2015; Baratz-Snowden, 2009; McGuinn, 2010).

Demonstrate growth and development. Once the threshold for time in the classroom is met, teachers could go before a local review board that would represent multiple education perspectives and advise whether a tenure candidate should move forward in the process. Much like the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, teachers seeking tenure would submit a portfolio of evidence with tangible examples of their growth and development: successful evaluations, letters of appreciation and support from parents, colleagues, and students, and examples of engagement with the greater school community.

Revisit tenure determinations. Like collegiate tenure, K-12 tenure should be revisited throughout a teacher's career. This would allow for a system that regularly acknowledges and celebrates teacher growth. Once that first tenure hurdle is passed for highly effective practitioners, tenure renewal could provide experienced and tenured teachers opportunities to be honored and recognized, not just through incentivized pay but also with grants to study a subject area deeply or by lightening their teaching load to coach and mentor other teachers. We often talk of differentiating instruction for students but what about differentiating professional growth and development for teachers? A re-envisioned system of tenure could do this and finally open up career pathways for teachers. As California Federation of Teachers President Josh Pechthalt wrote in an oped published in the Orange County Register last year: "And, yes, we should pay teachers more, especially starting out but also support a serious commitment to professional development along the way" (2015).

Invest in mid- to late-career development and support. Perhaps most significantly, a tenure system overseen by the state with a more rigorous process would incentivize a state's ongoing investment in teacher development throughout a teacher's career through smarter professional development and meaningful evaluations. Setting a high bar for initial tenure designations and creating a process that requires revisiting tenure determinations would encourage ongoing support and development to keep talented teachers in the classroom. Little support is given to teachers midway through their careers. Teachers firmly articulate the desire for an in-depth evaluation process with significant need for remodeling to make them truly effective. Professional development often comes through one-shot, one-sizefits-all workshops rather than efforts aimed at skill building. Teachers too often lack the opportunity to deeply reflect on their strengths and needs. The only way teachers can make truly meaningful changes to their instructional practices is to give them time and a process to make those changes. The school calendar and the school day are barely long enough to get instruction done let alone to be thoughtful, reflective, and flexible with their practice.


Teachers should have the protections that tenure offers. As a result of the Vergara vs. California case, teachers in my state may very well lose permanent status. Before it's declared open season on teachers, I want a viable alternative to ensure that the practice of teaching is not left vulnerable. A reinvigorated and purposeful tenure system could go a long way in restoring the public's confidence in teachers and our teachers unions. A visionary and rigorous tenure system would ensure that no matter where a family lives, parents will know that their child's teacher is highly effective. Isn't that what we all want?

PHYLIS HOFFMAN (, @phylis.hoffman) teaches 2nd grade at Harry Bridges K-8 Span School in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She is a National Board Certified Teacher in literacy, reading, and language arts and a member of Educators4Excellence.


Baratz-Snowden, J. (2009, June). Fixing tenure: A proposal for assuring teacher effectiveness and due process. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Educators4Excellence. (2015, February). Reimagining tenure: Protecting our students and our profession.

McGuinn. P. (2010, February). Ringing the bell for K-12 teacher tenure reform. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress.

Pechthalt, J. (2015, October 6). Teachers deserve better treatment, not denigration. [Op-ed]. Orange County Register.

Stryer, M., Teoh, M., Blackwell, L., & Hommeyer, C. (2015). Raising the bar: The views of California teachers on tenure, layoffs and dismissal. Boston, MA: Teach Plus.

Caption: FIGURE 1. A proposed path to tenure


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Title Annotation:Tenure
Author:Hoffman, Phylis
Publication:Phi Delta Kappan
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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