Tenure column doesn’t tell whole story

By Tim Nuccio

Annie Piekarczyk’s article covers an important issue, but misses the mark by failing to identify why anyone should care about teachers and tenure at all. Tenure exists historically to protect the academic freedom of researchers, enabling them to publish potentially unpopular findings without fear of arbitrary retribution. Discussions of teachers’ salary in the article are a bit misleading not because they are incorrect, but because they fail to tell the whole story. $44,559 doesn’t seem like a lot of money until one considers the fact that most teachers only work nine months of the year or less. If this is considered, the “median” teacher earns in the top 20% of the American labor force, with compensation comparable to other professions typically requiring a college education.

Her article does, however, present a controversial idea that will likely be immensely unpopular with teachers’ unions, who have fought to protect their members from employment-at-will, the common law doctrine that allows the employer to terminate the employment relationship for any time and for any reason. Statutory law on the subject is generally limited to preventing termination for a discriminatory purpose, but falls short of requiring a “good” reason (or even any reason) for the termination, although there are minimal exceptions to this in certain states.

I think the bigger question with respect to this issue is to ask why high school teachers are tenured at all. Since the early 1900s, legislation gives unions the upper hand in the American labor force, including enforcing a legal “right” to unionize and requiring employers to negotiate with these unions. In the case of public education, these legal protections have allowed unions to force school administrations into labor agreements that are clearly NOT in the best interest of either the students who consume education or the taxpayers who support the schools, transferring control to a third party with a vested conflict of interest. Piekarczyk shared an anecdote about her own high school geometry teacher who is/was a classic example of this.

I suggest that it is time to end tenure for non-researchers completely. Researchers in academia should support this because it strengthens the value of tenure to be used for its intended purpose, and would stop freeloaders like Piekarczyk’s geometry teacher. If the public has nothing to benefit from tenuring its high school teachers, why should it continue?