This New York Times Columnist Says Teacher Tenure Is Failing Our Kids

• August 19, 2014 9:53 am


The United States’ current education system is failing both students and teachers, and tenure is the causing factor, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote in a column published Monday.

Bruni wrote his column after meeting with Colorado state Senator Mike Johnston (D.), who "was a leading proponent of a 2010 law that essentially abolished tenure in Colorado."

To earn what is now called "non-probationary status," a new teacher must demonstrate student progress three years in a row, and any teacher whose students show no progress for two consecutive years loses his or her job protection.

Tenure "provides no incentive for someone to improve their practice," Johnston told Bruni. "It provides no accountability to actual student outcomes. It’s the classic driver of, ‘I taught it, they didn’t learn it, not my problem.’ It has a decimating impact on morale among staff, because some people can work hard, some can do nothing, and it doesn’t matter."

Johnston served in the Teach for America program for two years and was also a principal in a Denver-area public school where he saw first-hand the problems with tenure. 

When job protections are based disproportionately on time served, he said, they don’t adequately inspire and motivate. Referring to himself and other tenure critics, he said, "We want a tenure system that actually means something, that’s a badge of honor you wear as one of the best practitioners in the field and not just because you’re breathing."

Tenure is drawing bipartisan scrutiny.

After a California judge’s recent ruling that the state’s tenure protections violated the civil rights of children by trapping them with ineffective educators in a manner that "shocks the conscience," Arne Duncan, the education secretary, praised the decision. Tenure even drew scrutiny from Whoopi Goldberg on the TV talk show "The View." She repeatedly questioned the way it sometimes shielded bad teachers.

Published under: Education