Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rage, Rage, Against the Darkness

When I was a policy guy in state government I was amazed and frustrated at how often law was made on ideology and anecdotal evidence. I fear that what is labeled as "education reform" will be lacking in research and heavy on opinion. For example, some policy makers are now discussing teacher tenure and they do not even know what it means.

The general public (including some of the "education reformers") believes tenure means that once at teacher reaches a certain year they are given unlimited job security and cannot be laid off or terminated.

Of course this is a huge problem. That's why we can't get rid of "bad" teachers. Well that, and the teachers' union.

Here is how tenure works in reality. In Delaware, a teacher must have three years teaching experience in the state. Two of the three years must be with your current employer. So for example, a teacher could have 20 years experience with a school district, but if the teacher quits and goes to another Delaware district, he/she would have to put in two years at the new district before tenured again.

Once one is tenured, one can still be "reduced in force" (i.e. laid off), and one can certainly be terminated. Tenure simply means that if the district moves to terminate a teacher's employment the teacher is given a hearing before the school board or a designated hearing officer. At that hearing the teacher has a right to representation. The district also has representation (a lawyer)and is supposed to show just cause for the termination.

In other words, tenure is due process for termination. It is the most basic of employment rights. Truly it is something that all workers should have and it is a sorry statement of American attitude that we think this is something extraordinary.

For almost 30 years private sector employees have seen their unions broken, their wages reduced, and their health care eliminated. We should take note of this and vow that we will not go gently into that good night.

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