Fixing Tenure: A proposal for assuring teacher effectiveness and due process

Joan Baratz-Snowden
Center for American Progress
June 2009

As its title indicates, this paper is a plan to rethink and rework
the tenure of public-school teachers. Tenure, explains author
Baratz-Snowden, is "a concept much misunderstood, and often unfairly
identified as the major obstacle to assure that all children are taught
by effective teachers." It is not, she insists, a fatal flaw, just a
practice in urgent need of reform. The key lies in teacher evaluation
systems, tools that Baratz-Snowden admits, and others have repeatedly shown,
are mostly useless in their current form. Baratz-Snowden has some
suggestions for creating better ones, such as establishing clear and
precise teaching standards, including a professional development
component that would provide feedback, and incorporating evidence of
student achievement (through multiple measures such as portfolios and
teacher-designed assessments, in addition to standardized test scores).
But that's not all. Tenure evaluations should take into account
"teachers' teaching and learning environment," since school
environmental factors (like leadership, availability of supplies, and
safety) affect an educator's ability to perform. And dismissal
processes, she believes, must be developed in collaboration with
teachers. The need for teacher buy-in seems strange (though not
unexpected) since she refers numerous times to relations between
"management and labor," but seems to believe they should be treated as
professionals making faculty-style decisions. Still, she proffers three
promising examples: Toledo, Minneapolis, and Green Dot's
collective-bargaining agreement with the Los Angeles teachers' union.
All of these maintain union involvement and emphasize teacher
improvement over weeding out bad apples. Overall, her suggestions are
union-friendly, yet constructive, provided one believes, as she
obviously does, that any form of tenure--or "continuing employment
status" as she would have us call it--is warranted. But to carry out her
recommendations will be pricey--all those advanced data systems and
arbitration arrangements--not to mention politically challenging. Read
it here.

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