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Bruno: What's The Problem With Tenure, Again?

This week's teacher tenure mini-scandal centers aroundAryeh Eller, a New York City music teacher who's collected about $1 million in pay since 1999 despite being removed from his teaching placement - but not fired - after confessing to sexual harassment charges.

This is clearly a problem, but what, if anything, should we do to fix it?


For skeptics of teacher tenure the response is - predictably enough - to scale back tenure and due process rights so those clearly unfit for the job can be more easily removed.

I'm not opposed to tenure reform in principle, but I have my doubts that cases like Eller's are reason enough.

The fact is that the due process rights associated with tenure almost certainly have some value both as checks on arbitrary firing decisions and as complementary compensation for lower-than-ideal teacher salaries. This means that to justify scaling back tenure it would need to be demonstrated that these due process rights are onerous to a degree that offsets their benefits.

In cases like Eller's, though, I'm often left genuinely puzzled about what, exactly, is so unreasonably onerous about the tenure protections that benefit these teachers. The articles themselves are rarely specific on this point, and the HuffPo story says only that "an independent arbitrator determined that Eller couldn't be fired because the city failed to inform the teacher of his rights".

Is that it? Is informing teachers of their due process rights really that onerous for school districts, or that unreasonable to expect from them? Why would we describe that as a problem with tenure rather than a problem with how the district handles human resources?

And remember: while we may not like that some particular teacher is benefiting from this or that tenure protection, that isn't really a reason to scale back such protections generally. Tenure rights affect lots of teachers and shouldn't be designed around marginal cases like Eller's.

So what am I missing? Which tenure protections are the most difficult for districts to deal with and how often do they really struggle with them? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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