Remove the teachers, not the tenure


Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

Tiffini Forslund speaks out against teacher tenure laws in an attempt to improve her children’s education in the Minnesota school system. Despite her personal stories, eradicating tenure laws won’t help remove ineffective teachers. Photo by Solveig Wastvedt/Minnesota Public Radio News. (c) 2016 Minnesota Public Radio. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Evie Murphy-Wilson, Managing Editor

“A group of parents backed by a national nonprofit say Minnesota’s teacher tenure laws perpetuate the state’s academic achievement gap between white students and students of color,” says Minnesota Public Radio on April 15, 2016. Minnesota is the third state in the U.S. to go through a lawsuit against teacher tenure in public schools, and most likely won’t be the last.

Teacher tenure laws in Minnesota protect teachers in their jobs after working for three years in the district. The parents are arguing that the tenure laws “deprive students of ‘their fundamental right to a thorough and efficient education’ under the state’s Constitution,” according to the New York Times. A valid argument from the four individual families trying to work through their difficulties with their children’s education.

The parent’s, specifically the plaintiff Tiffini Forslund, have complained that the tenure laws protect ineffective teachers and that they’ve seen how new, but good teachers have been forced out due to their lack of seniority. Forslund told MPR, “My daughter had a fifth grade teacher that was extremely intuitive to his classroom, to his students, to my daughter. I had not run into a teacher of this caliber through all three of my children. And he had had seven years of experience, and then due to last-in-first-out procedures he was let go.”

Though these families have valid personal points, removing the tenure system in Minnesota would be an ineffective solution. “Getting rid of tenure laws isn’t gonna solve the problem for low income students. What’s gonna solve the problem is us looking at improving the quality of the leadership, the principles and the superintendents and them really following through on the laws that do exist,” said South math teacher, Sara Van Der Werf.

“We have very strong tenure rules in this state that does allow principals to remove teachers who are ineffective. I think sometimes ineffective teachers are not removed. Not because of the laws that we have, but because of the administrators in our state not doing the right thing,” explained Van Der Werf.

Removing tenure laws will not rid Minnesota schools of ineffective teachers. It will not automatically place amazing teachers in low income schools. It will most likely make teaching a less desirable profession and those who would be effective teachers will do something with job protection.

The New York Times says, “‘Lawsuits like this stymie the real work that this lawsuit says it wants to do: growing and nurturing a great teaching force,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers’ union. “That happens by recruiting, mentoring, supporting and retaining teachers, not firing them.’”

Weingarten has it right. Teachers can be incredibly influential to students and assist them in a number of ways aside from teaching them district curriculum- teachers are turned to more often than school social workers by kids suffering with emotional or mental issues during high school. When a teacher is kept in a school long enough for them to find a rhythm with their colleagues and students, everyone benefits.

“We need to be asking different questions,” says Van Der Werf. “How do we hold our leaders accountable for holding up the rules that are already there? Because any ineffective teacher can be removed if you work the process.”

There is no profession in which every employee is great. There are some lawyers who are more persuasive than others. There are some singers who have a greater range than others, and there are some teachers who are more effective than others. Removing teacher tenure rights will not dispose of the less effective teachers. By making it easier to fire teachers, schools will be in infinite instability.