In this post, Chester (Checker) Finn Jr. questions the need for teacher tenure. Getting rid of tenure, he says, will save money, as it has in higher education, where money is lavished on administrators’ salaries and facilities, but not faculty (except for the Big Names).

He thinks that teacher tenure is a relatively recent invention, copying tenure in higher education. Actually, this is not true. Teachers began fighting for some form of job protection in the early twentieth century, to avoid losing their jobs to the sister, cousin, or daughter of a politician or school board member. In my reading on the history of tenure, I never saw evidence that teachers wanted to copy higher education, which was then a rich man’s institution. They wanted a modicum of job security to protect them from political interference with their work.

Finn also makes the mistake of confusing teacher tenure with “lifetime employment.” That is a common error. Teacher tenure is NOT lifetime employment. It is a guarantee of due process. If a teacher is accused of an inappropriate action or failure to perform his or her duties, they are entitled to a hearing before an impartial arbitrator. Why is that so onerous? Finn likes the current business model, where a deputy of the boss arrives without notice and says clear out your personal possessions, locks your computer, and escorts you to the door.

He thinks it is a good idea that tenure in higher education is waning but never wonders how “contingent faculty” manage to scrape by on a per-course payment that might add up to only $20,000 a year–or less.

“Tenure arrived in K–12 education as a trickle-down from higher ed. Will the demise of tenure follow a similar sequence? Let us earnestly pray for it—for tenure’s negatives today outweigh its positives—but let us not count on it.

“Almost every time I’ve had an off-the-record conversation in recent years with a university provost, they’ve confided that their institutions are phasing tenure out. Sometimes it’s dramatic, especially when prompted by lawmakers, such as the changes underway at the University of Wisconsin in the aftermath of Governor Scott Walker’s 2015 legislative success, and the bills pending in Missouri and Iowa.

“Often, though, the impulse to contain tenure on their campus arises within the institution’s own leadership and takes the form of hiring far fewer tenured or tenure-track faculty and filling vacancies with what the American Association of University Professors terms “contingent” faculty, i.e., non-tenured instructors, clinical professors, adjunct professors, part-timers, or—especially in medical schools—severing tenure from pay such that professors may nominally win tenure but that status carries no right to a salary unless they raise the money themselves from grants, patients, etc.

“This is happening across much of U.S. postsecondary education, and the data show it. Whereas in the mid-1970’s tenured and tenure-track faculty comprised 56 percent of the instructional staff in American higher ed (excluding graduate students that teach undergrads), by 2011 that figure had shrunk to 29 percent. In other words, seven out of ten college instructions were “contingent” employees—and almost three quarters of those were part-timers…

“In the K–12 world, however, tenure remains the norm for public school teachers in the district sector, vouchsafed in most places by state law and big-time politics, as well as local contracts, even in so-called “right to work” states. It may be achieved after as few as three years of classroom experience and be based on nothing more than “satisfactory” evaluations from a novice teacher’s supervisor during that period. Unfortunately, we have ample evidence that such evaluations are nearly always at least “satisfactory,” if not “outstanding.” Although many states and districts made worthy changes to their evaluation practices in response to long-ago-spent Race to the Top dollars, the pushback against those changes has been intense, the methodology usually had flaws (especially when linking student learning to teacher performances), and lots of places have been backing down. One consequence is that it’s still virtually impossible to fire bad tenured teachers.”

Clearly, Checker thought it was a swell idea to fire teachers based on the test scores of their students, even though this approach was criticized by the American Statistical Association and has not succeeded everywhere.

He does not acknowledge the high rate of attrition among teachers, especially new teachers; about 40% leave without being fired. Most leave because the job is harder than they thought, or the working conditions were intolerable.

What Checker doesn’t show is the alleged benefits of eliminating job security. Where is the district or state that has better schools because it eliminated tenure? Why does he think that districts and states will raise salaries if they eliminate tenure? The same political forces (unions) that protect due process also protect teachers’ compensation.

At a time of a growing national teacher shortage, does it make sense to eliminate job security for teachers, the promise that they will not be fired capriciously?

The challenge today is how to recruit, support, and retain teachers. Checker offers no suggestions to answer these needs. He probably would be satisfied with a steady inflow of Teach for America or other temps.

What most parents want is stability. They want experienced teachers who make a career of teaching, not part-timers and temps. Checker has been stuck for decades on how to get rid of teachers. It is time to think anew about making teaching a desirable career, not a lifetime of near-poverty and sacrifice.

What Finn doesn’t