Advancing a Free Society

Should K-12 Teachers Have Tenure?

Monday, March 19, 2012

The traditional case for tenure at the university level rests on two pillars. The first and most prominent is that this gives professors freedom to express unpopular views in their writings and lectures. The second is that professors in the same field are the best ones to judge the qualifications and promise of potential new hires and existing colleagues. This is why departments rather than central administrators choose who to hire and who to let go. Tenure insures the existence of a core of faculty with a long-term commitment to their departments who make the hiring and firing decisions. For reasons I have expressed elsewhere (see my 1/15/06 “Comment on Tenure”), I do not believe that these arguments are powerful enough to justify the rigidities introduced by having the tenure system at colleges and universities. Whether that conclusion is correct or not, neither of these arguments made for having tenure in higher education has close applicability to teachers at the K-12 level. They publish very little, and mainly teach materials that are not controversial. There are exceptions, such as teachers of Israeli-Palestinian relations, or theories of evolution, but teaching materials of this type are exceptions and not the rule. The second reason used to justify tenure at the university level, that senior colleagues are the ones with the qualifications to choose new hires and to decide who to hold on to in their departments, is not applicable at the K-12 level. For unlike what happens at universities, administrators at K-12 schools, such as principals, do the hiring, not teachers with tenure. Since administrators (or older teachers) cannot readily judge which of the hires will turn out to be good teachers, that provides a strong reason why K-12 teachers should not get tenure, especially not after only a short time of teaching. Continue reading Gary Becker…

(photo credit: SS&SS)