Time has come for reasonable tenure reform
by PETER MACGREGOR
One of the first few meetings I scheduled after taking office was with all the school superintendents in my district. Over and over, one of the issues that kept coming up, in addition to budget cuts, was the fact that the tenure process needed reformed. Additionally, I had meeting after meeting and countless e-mails and phone calls from actual educators. Some educators wanted to maintain the status quo, but there were also many who privately conveyed they agreed it was time for reasonable tenure reform.
There is an example in almost every district of a teacher who has lost their passion or isn’t really qualified to teach children, but seems to be untouchable because they’ve obtained “tenure.” In fact, there are districts all across this state that have educators who probably need to be removed from the classroom, but it is cheaper for the school to pay their salary to not work at all—and pay their replacement simultaneously—than to go through the long, litigious process of terminating a teacher with the Teacher Tenure Commission.
I asked those in the education field, both administrators and teachers, what it typically costs a school district to terminate one teacher and was told estimates anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 per teacher. It’s no wonder we all have had those experiences mentioned above of someone who taught us or taught our kids, who we all knew shouldn’t be there, yet remained year after year.
I am well aware that we have some of the best teachers in the state, probably even in the country, right here in West Michigan. Effective teachers are the most important variable in a student’s success. However, those good teachers should not take offense to the legislation passed this past month on tenure reform. In fact, the legislation that was passed will protect good teachers. No longer is it acceptable to fire a lower seniority teacher to keep a teacher who has more seniority and who may not even teach the subject needed—which is now the current practice. Rather, educators will now be employed based on performance. If the teacher with less experience happened to be a better teacher, they shouldn’t automatically get “bumped” because they haven’t been there as long. We needed to find a way to keep the most productive and successful teachers.
The current tenure process is all about the educators and their careers, not on student needs. The package of bills passed will put students first. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation being spread about what the “teacher tenure reform” bills actually do. Here are the facts:
• Tenure will now be granted based on performance and not seniority.
• Seniority-based layoffs, known as “last in, first out” (LIFO), are no longer allowed.
• The probationary period for a new teacher has been slightly extended prior to tenure, but tenure can be earned more quickly if the teacher is rated “highly effective.”
• Teachers must be automatically dismissed if they have received three ineffective evaluations in a row.
The bottom line is the adults need to do what is best for the kids, not what is best for the adults. Who wants to be in the position of defending someone who isn’t performing, or in some cases is harming our children, simply because “they’ve been there for years”? Of course, this reform will also call for the administration and principals to perform their duties and provide multiple, in-depth performance reviews of the teachers as well.
I appreciated all the input I received on this issue. As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve you.