FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 30, 2014
Jia Lee, Elementary School teacher and Public School parent
Mike Schirtzer, Social Studies High School teacher
Teachers, Parents and Students Stand Strong for Tenure
Due Process Protects Teachers who Protect their Students
Tenure gives teachers the right to stand up for their students’ best interests, even in the face of poor leadership or poor policy. It accords those who spend the most time with students the respect and responsibility of making best decisions on their students’ behalf. Thus, recent attacks on tenure have nothing to do with improving teaching and learning. They are designed to undermine teacher’s unions and silence educators’ voices.
Critics who claim, ‘tenure is a job for life’ or ‘tenure protects incompetent teachers’ are misrepresenting the facts. It takes several years to earn tenure in New York State, and in reality, tenure is nothing more than due process. It provides only two job protections: 1) a school district must have cause for terminating a teacher and 2) an independent agent ultimately decides whether or not the teacher is fired.
Attacks on tenure are cloaked in civil rights language and claim to defend children from incompetent educators. In reality, there is no evidence showing that tenure harms children. In fact, states that afford teachers tenure, like Massachusetts, consistently show higher student achievement levels than states like Mississippi, where teachers do not have tenure. (According to nationwide NAEP scores.)
Tenure allows educators to blow the whistle on violations that harm our children. This can include advocating for students with special needs who have been deprived of proper services.
Karen Sprowal, a public school parent says, “The argument is always about the “bad apples” when speaking about teacher tenure. As a parent of an often under-served specials needs child, for the sake of “budget cuts”, or so I have been told, I can tell you that all of the most fierce student advocate teachers were always tenured. The teachers that weren’t tenured always remain silent for fear of being fired or removed if they spoke out about any inequities. In fact it got so bad at my son’s school that we couldn’t even get non- tenured teachers to participate on School Leadership Team because of the principal’s mere presence.”
Students from the New York City Student Union agreed that campaigns focused on eliminating teacher tenure do more harm than good, and divert attention from more pressing issues facing our educational system.
“By eliminating teacher tenure, we risk further disconnecting students and teachers, and make it harder for them to have transformational dialogue about what actually needs to be done in our classrooms to further the growth of students. Both students and teachers are being exploited by a system at large. Our energies are used to profit large corporations that dictate our education–both students and teachers deserve rights that will not put them at risk of being removed, silenced, or further marginalized. Our energies and resources ought to be used to grow our educational communities, not put towards extra policing efforts.”
-Primi Akhtar (2014 graduate of Queens Metropolitan High School)
At the heart of the attacks on tenure is an attempt to silence educators from speaking out against “reform” policies that privilege data and profits rather than children. Far too many public education decisions are made in corporate boardrooms and political back-rooms, without the input of the real stakeholders, parents and educators. The educators of MORE-UFT have worked to expose and change these policies. Any erosion of tenure will silence a great many of our voices. This will surely quicken the damage that is being done to our public schools.
Jia Lee, parent, teacher, and conscientious-objector to this year’s standardized testing regime explains, “Tenure is a threat to those who stand to gain from privatizing public education. Tenure allows educators to establish democratic practices in our schools, such as consultation committees, without worrying about being targeted for bringing up issues that directly impact the well-being of our students. When we recognize that the market based reforms of Common Core Standards and high stakes testing place a stranglehold on our ability to provide our students with what they need, we should not be fearful of speaking out. Advocacy for students’ needs begins with a teacher’s ability to teach without fear.”
In 1964, tenure allowed eight city teachers, including Sandra Adickles, to ride south on a voluntary transfer and teach at a ‘freedom school’ during the Civil Rights Movement. Ms. Adickles’ bravery later led to a US Supreme Court decision making it more difficult for southerners to deny rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution. Teachers like Ms. Lee, and Ms. Adickles help make our country stronger and more equitable, and tenure makes their brave actions possible.
Tenure is essential in protecting the best of our profession, because it allows us to speak freely and advocate for our students, ourselves, and our communities.
Please see our full statement “In Support Of Tenure” here
The Movement of Rank and File Educators is the social justice caucus of UFT. We are a group of working public educators and parents, that stand firmly for tenure and independently arbitrated due process rights, including seniority rights, for all educators.