Kenneth Bernstein recently retired as a social studies teacher. He is Nationally Board Certified. He blogs at The Daily Kos and elsewhere about education and other topics. He wrote for this blog in response to the discussion about tenure:
Tenure is nothing more than a guarantee of due process in disciplinary matters
It seems to me the people who complain about tenure for public school teachers have somewhat dictatorial powers. They are similar to those who complain that police and prosecutors are hamstrung by having to follow the provisions of the Bill of Rights when going after those accused of crimes.
We have a system of laws that provide for due process precisely because our Founders recognized that there must be some controls on those exercising power, ostensibly in the name of We, the People of the United States. They also recognized the danger of a mob mentality, which is why our system removed from being subject to simple majority rule things like our ability to worship or not worship in the religious sect of our choice, how we speak out politically, the ability of the press to act as our eyes and ears, and our ability to gather and organize for political and other purposes. These are all rights guaranteed in the First Amendment.
We have over the years expanded the Constitutional protections given people because of other kinds of discrimination we saw happening. Thus the 14th Amendment requires the equal protection of the laws.
“Tenure” for public school teachers does not prevent teachers from being dismissed for good cause, provided that administrators do their jobs properly. That would start with properly screening those who are hired, properly supervising them before they earn tenure, and documenting any incidents that might warrant disciplinary action after tenure is earned.
Remember, the disciplinary procedures are subject to state and federal laws where applicable, and the actual procedures are usually the result of negotiations between the school system administration/school board and the union on behalf of the teachers. That is, the procedures have been agreed to by both sides. That is a contractual agreement, requiring both sides to abide by the provisions thereof. Since the Dartmouth College case, contracts are generally accepted to be sacrosanct so long as they are not for illegal acts.
There is a certain mindset that does not like to have to deal with people who can legally exercise power against them. Unfortunately, we are seeing too many people in public life with this kind of mindset. Some wish to impose their religious values upon the rest of us, through law if possible, despite the restrictions of the First Amendment. Others wish to criminalize behavior they find offensive. Still others wish to tilt the legal system totally in the direction of those with monetary wealth, without requiring those of wealth to contribute to the society which made the accumulation and continuation of that wealth possible.
Teachers unions are an easy target. And if they can be broken, what is left of unionization in this country will be in serious jeopardy. That will affect all Americans economically: states with unions have higher incomes, and oh by the way their schools tend to perform better.
I may now be retired from the classroom, at least for now, but I not only believed in the importance of teachers unions, I served as the lead building rep for the teachers in my building, a school with a national reputation for excellence, precisely because I believe unions are necessary for economic and educational equity.