Teacher Tenure Research Paper Starter

Teacher Tenure

Academic tenure differs in scope for teachers employed in public K-12 schools and teachers at colleges and universities. Among K-12 teachers, tenure prevents schools from dismissing teachers without cause or due process. In higher education, tenure is meant to ensure professors' academic freedom. In recent years, discussion has focused on the possibility of tenure reform. Advocates of reform argue that tenure makes it too difficult and costly to dismiss underperforming K-12 teachers; among college professors, it is alleged that, in reality, tenure does not allow professors academic freedom, and that tenure evaluations discriminate against women and minorities.

Keywords Academic Freedom; Academic Research; Academic Tenure; Cause; De Facto Tenure; Due Process; Faculty Governance; Governance; Higher Education; Promotion; Public Realm/Private Realm; Public School Teachers; Research; Tenure

Politics, Government


Tenure is a guarantee that a teacher will not be parted from a job without at least due process. At a casual glance it appears to be a simple topic yet it is actually quite complex. Tenure rules are different for teachers in public K-12 systems and those who are professors teaching in the higher education system. However, both tenure systems are grounded in rights protected under the 1st and 14th amendments of the Bill of Rights. The 1st amendment asserts the right to free speech and the 14th amendment creates the rules of due process that protect a teacher/professor within academia.

In order to understand tenure in public K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, how it is attained, protections it provides, and impacts it may have on institutional structures must be explored.

Tenure in the Public Schools System

For a public school teacher in the American K-12 system, tenure can be fairly defined as the right to due process (Jordan, 2005) and is most usually attained in the third year of teaching. Tenure reviews generally consist of an assessment of a teacher's effectiveness based on:

• A personal assessment of performance;

• Results of a supervisory classroom observation; and

• Comments provided by parents of children from the teacher's classroom.

In many states, classroom test scores are beginning to be factored into the review equation (Bernstein, 2006). Once the assessments are complete, the teacher is given a formal performance review and taken off of probationary status. At that point, contracts move from an annual renewal to one encompassing a period of time (typically up to five years). Tenure does not confer a guarantee of lifetime employment or even a choice of schools in which the teacher will work (Christie, 1997).

A tenured teacher cannot be released from an employment contract without cause and without due process. This means a teacher must have done something which violated the rules and policies of the school system (cause) and must be afforded certain protections, steps and appeals in the firing process (due process). Typically, a teacher must have been formally notified that there is a problem and given help to fix the problem: these efforts at remediation must be well documented. Performance reviews must be balanced, listing instances of sub-par performance as well as instances of satisfactory performance. The teacher must be allowed a hearing that is fair and timely; allowing the teacher a chance to challenge charges and allegations of poor performance. Academic freedom is not really a component of the K-12 mission because there are not requirements to generate new knowledge in the form of research (Desmond, 2003).

There is a lot of controversy regarding the impact tenure has on the public school system. Some educators believe the tenure system does not allow a fair evaluation of a teacher, especially if classroom test performance is to be factored into the equation. Others believe the current tenure system, coupled with a strong teacher's union, makes it virtually impossible to dismiss a teacher who is under-performing. Criticisms of the current systems for granting tenure has led some school systems to reform rather than abolish the way teachers are evaluated for tenure: for instance, for the 2011-2012 school year, New York City introduced a framework for evaluation of teachers, to be used citywide, focusing on three areas: impact on student learning, instructional practice, and professional contributions. Within each category, a teacher is graded on a four-point scale (ineffective, developing, effective, and highly effective). The framework also includes guidelines for the type of evidence that may be used in the tenure evaluation, including student achievement, classroom observation, annual reviews, and feedback from students, parents, and colleagues.

Tenure in the Higher Education System

The concept of tenure was established in higher education by the American Association of University Professors in 1915. It was meant to ensure academic freedom (i.e., "the freedom to teach, conduct research, and perform other duties without fear of job loss or censure" (Williams & Ceci, 2007)) and to shore up the practice of faculty governance (Bok, 1982). Higher education in America is predicated on three pillars: Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Faculty Governance. Professors need the ability to push students to examine their personal beliefs; making them hold the beliefs more strongly or adjust their beliefs to accommodate new knowledge without the fear of being fired for creating these challenges. Education is meant to be a free exchange of ideas resulting in robust debate and potential disagreement within a nurturing environment (Desmond, 2003).

The meaning of tenure in the higher education arena is a bit different from that of the public school system. First, the freedom to conduct research is added to the notion of the freedom to teach. Second, the career-long commitment is a permanent, life-long commitment to the professor for as long as the professor chooses to teach or conduct research. Third, the time it takes to become tenured is much longer (typically seven years or longer) and is predicated on an apprenticeship model in which the professor is promoted through the ranks from Assistant Professor, to Associate Professor, to Professor via a series of scheduled performance reviews (Desmond, 2003).

Procedurally, a professor on the tenure-track receives yearly reviews with extensive, formal reviews in at least the third and seventh years (and, most usually, the fifth year). The formal reviews include external reviewers and are critical junctures in which the faculty member may receive a one year notice of intent to dismiss (AAUP, 1940; Hofstadter & Metzger, 1956). If the faculty member is retained, the formal reviews explicate what needs to be done to obtain a positive review during the next formal review period. The seventh year review is the actual opportunity to become a fully tenured professor. The assistant professor presents the review committee with a file containing evidence of exemplary research, teaching, and service activities. The file wends its way through a carefully prescribed review process with a yes or no decision rendered at each step. The university president makes the final decision (based on the entire review process) and is the only one who can grant tenure (Desmond, 2003).

According to the American Association of University Professors, "The primary purpose of tenure is to add knowledge to the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual professor or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition" (AAUP, 1940, p. 1). Tenure works to protect academic freedoms which allow professors to speak to controversial matters, pursue and research politically unpopular topics, and to report unethical practices of their peers (Williams & Ceci, 2007). Tenured professors have earned the right to test new ideas, many of which will fail. Their tenure status allows them the protection needed to risk failure minus the threat of punishment (Desmond, 2003). Additionally, tenure is credited with helping to attract talented faculty members, raise graduation rates, and protect the speech and writings of contrarians (Bowen, 2007).

However, tenure does impose some restraints on an institution's ability to manage effectively. Administration often struggles to manage annual budgets that are based on available state funding and student enrollment rates while disregarding the expenses incurred in retaining commitments to tenured professors. This can create potential financial burdens during years of fiscal stress (Honan & Teferra, 2001). Also, tenured professors who are viewed as incompetent or negligent are still entitled to their jobs and there are no built-in incentives to motivate exceptional performance once tenure has been attained (Desmond, 2003).

Tenure is often promoted as the only secure protection for academic freedom in teaching, research, and service. Tenure systems are mostncommon in four-year public institutions, according to the 2011 Digest of Education Statistics published by the National Center for Education Statistics.In 2009-2010. 90.9% of public 4-year institutions had tenure systems, with the tenure system nearly universal (99.5%) in doctoral institutions; however, a tenure system is less common in 2-year institutions (57.7%). Among not-for-profit 4-year institutions, 59.5% had tenure systems, and among not-for-profit 2-year institutions, 12.9% had tenure systems....

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