Drop tenure but detail new system

/ 27 February 2012 / jennifer

St. Cloud Times Editorial, February 27, 2012 –

The Legislature continues to push to end tenure as the guiding force in determining how public school teachers in the state are retained.

As this board noted last spring when the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce puts its considerable political clout behind the idea, there is merit in changing such a legacy system. And legislation passed last year to require annual teacher evaluations was a critical step.

This session the focus is on dumping the “last in first out” approach. Yes, it should go, but with its departure should come some much-needed details about how a teacher’s performance will be judged. Or perhaps not judged.


Proponents of dropping tenure have not adequately answered the fundamental question about what factors should be examined in teacher evaluations. About the best they do is state that this legislation will protect the best teachers and remove the least effective teachers.

If they are going to eliminate tenure, what are their main gauges of “best” and “least effective”? Please don’t defer answers to others. Step up and suggest specifics.

Yes, standardized test scores are one. But what else? Ongoing education? Programming and resources available in a district? Best practices? Student demographics? Promised vs. actual state funding?

Admittedly, a few of those are provocative. But the point in offering them is that the definition of “best” and “least effective” can change depending on your perspective.

For example, in reviewing highly experienced and highly paid teachers, a school board of a district with plenty of resources is going to define them differently than a school board of a cash-strapped district.

So what’s the definition, especially for a state that is supposed to provide the same level of education regardless of location?


Of equal importance, too, is similar accountability applied to all school administrators.

Two unspoken causes of this over-reliance on tenure is school administrators have essentially failed to perform the personnel evaluations necessary when beginning teachers did not have tenure, nor are many willing to evaluate tenured teachers who are underperforming.

Legislators can change the system however they want, but if administrators won’t apply the standards, then it is of little good.

Finally, it must be noted that the Legislature has a poor track record lately on many aspects of education, from failing to provide promised funding to scapegoating schools as the cause of bullying.

With all that in mind, it’s critical to ask legislators not about whether tenure should stay or go. Rather, what specifically should replace it?