Teacher Tenure

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A California judge has ruled that teacher tenure is unconstitutional. You see, during economic downturns, school districts must fire teachers; and since poor, inner-city children are too often saddled with a predominately inexperienced, untenured staff, their teachers are the first to go.

The judge thinks that's not fair. If his decision survives appeal, soon all schools everywhere will be able to sack teachers equally.
And that will be a hollow victory.

The real problem, of course, is not tenure, but the scandalous fact that we send our least-qualified educators to teach our most needy kids. An even bigger problem is that we've segregated all those kids into blighted communities and schools in the first place. And, as long as we're opening the Pandora's Box of real problems, why don't we mention that the United States and especially California have the highest rates of childhood poverty in the industrialized world - which is the single most powerful impediment to student academic success.

Eliminating tenure won't address any of these far more serious problems.

Ah, but the judge notes that some of California teachers are incompetent and that, because of tenure, it's too hard to fire them. The real problem, however, is that most new teachers come from the bottom 30th percentile of college graduates. Half of them -- too often the better half -- leave the profession voluntarily after only five years. And, who will replace them?


Over the last decade there has been a 66 percent decline in enrollment at state teacher education programs. Apparently, the ongoing scapegoating of teachers has discouraged even more of our colleges' best and brightest from even considering a teaching career. Now that's a problem!

Nonetheless, the judge has diverted everyone's attention away from these real and dire educational problems to focus on tenure.

Perhaps that is the worst problem of all.

With a Perspective, I'm David Ellison.

David Ellison teaches Spanish and history at James Logan High School in Union City.