Learning About: Tenure
- Tenure does not guarantee a teacher a job for life: New teachers serve a three-year probationary period, during which time school officials have an obligation to carefully evaluate that teacher's job performance. If after three years - some 550 school days and, perhaps, more than 2,500 classes - the local school board votes to grant a teacher tenure, it simply means that the teacher is entitled to a fair hearing before a neutral third party if there are allegations of incompetence or wrongdoing.
- Due process is a basic American right: The protections of tenure are a basic right enjoyed by all Americans. It includes the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and the right to a fair hearing. Tenure is also not unique to the teaching profession. State and municipal workers - including police officers and firefighters, as well as union members in the private sector - also have due process protections very similar to tenure. And, they earn those protections is less time than teachers.
- Tenure helps to ensure stability in the classroom: What would happen to teachers without tenure? Teachers could - and would - be fired for virtually any reason or no reason at all. It's not at all hard to imagine teachers being dismissed because they failed the daughter of an influential businessman, or because the school board president's nephew needed a job. What would stop a school board from dismissing a veteran teacher at the top of the pay scale - and replacing that teacher with a first-year teacher - simply to save money?
- Tenure helps to protect academic freedom: Tenure protects academic freedom the way the First Amendment protects freedom of the press. It is born out of the basic realization that teachers can engage their students in a free exchange of ideas only if they are protected from arbitrary dismissal for doing so. Without the protections of tenure, teacher could face dismissal for supporting the "wrong" political candidate or for legitimate lessons on controversial subjects in the news.
- What about the cost and length of tenure proceedings? In September 1994, the Legislature - working with NYSUT and the state School Boards Association - streamlined the tenure law to provide for a fairer, faster process that still protected teachers' due process rights. The reforms have been successful, shortening the length of most cases and encouraging settlements in countless others - before there are full-blown hearings. While some critics point to lengthy cases that go to full hearings, the real story is how many cases are settled quickly, with little cost to districts, often before charges are even filed.