The Impact of No Tenure

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Teacher tenure has become a controversial topic as many believe tenure protects bad teachers, making it “impossible” to fire them.  This interesting study (see http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2014/09/18-teacher-tenure-chingos) suggests that simply removing tenure would have little impact on the quality of teaching in and of itself.  The researcher, Matthew M. Chingos, approached this from the non-tenure side, looking at the retention rates of over 2,000 North Carolina fourth and fifth grade teachers over the course of their four-year probationary period.  For the first four years after being hired, North Carolina teachers do not have tenure and can be let go with no legal recourse.  That is essentially the same way it works in Illinois.  Chingos took the tack of rating how well these non-tenured teachers were doing and examining their retention rates.  If tenure had been a straight-jacket on principals, keeping them from ridding themselves of bad teachers, he posited, then one would expect the retention rates of lower-performing non-tenured/probationary teachers to be much lower than that of higher performing non-tenured/probationary teachers; since free from tenure’s required procedures, principals could easily fire weaker non-tenured teachers.

Chingos, with the help of research analyst Katharine Lindquist, used progress on state tests to determine what he calls a teacher’s “value added” and ranked the 2,272 teachers of this study.  He then examined how many were still in their jobs at the end of each of their probationary years.  You would assume that a significantly higher percentage of teachers in the lowest quartile would be gone at the end of the four years and that a much higher percentage of the better teachers, those in the top quartile, would still be teaching.

The results showed that about the same percentage of the top quartile and lowest quartile were still teaching in North Carolina at the end of four years, roughly 50%.  Chingos points out that while this is only one state, his results coincide with those of a similar study done in Florida, showing that teacher effectiveness had little to do with retention rates, even when tenure was not a factor.  In other words, without tenure, there was no greater likelihood that the worst teachers (as defined by this study) would be weeded out as compared to the best teachers.

Chingos then goes on to suggest that instead of eliminating tenure (as many have suggested) which could have a negative impact on attracting the best people into education, modifying tenure to make it easier to fire bad teachers while protecting good ones is the best way to go. (He doesn’t suggest how this might be accomplished.)  He came to this conclusion based on how difficult it was to retain the good teachers because only half of the highest rated North Carolina teachers in this study were still teaching after four years.  Eliminating tenure would further encourage those good teachers to leave the profession, if they would even enter it.  He also concludes principals should be more incentivized to fire lower-performing teachers before tenure has been achieved, when the principal can make that decision without restrictions.  Simply eliminating tenure is not a good strategy either in firing bad teachers or retaining good ones, according to Chingos’s study.

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