Fighting Tenure? Really? Like That’s Gonna Help Anything

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The internet is abuzz with talk about teacher tenure. Not only is Twitter alive with #WithoutTenure, Whoopi Goldberg and Bill Maher have recently weighed in with uninformed opinions.  But, no one is making more noise than Campbell Brown. She is leading the charge against tenure, claiming that it will make a big difference in the fight to save education in America.

But, fighting tenure? Really? That’s not gonna help much.

Campbell Brown’s assertion:

  1. Bad teachers are a big problem.
  2. Bad teachers are not fired because of tenure laws.
  3. If tenure laws were abolished bad teachers could be quickly and easily ushered out of the classroom leading to better learning for all.

The problem:

Brown’s assertion is naive at best and moronic at worst.

  1. The greatest threat to public education is not so-called bad teachers. It is poverty. Plain and simple. The kids who do the worst are consistently the kids who are the poorest. Firing teachers will not fix that.
  2. While no one would be crazy enough to argue that there are not ineffective teachers out there, they are not in such abundance that firing some will make a great impact. Said another way, disallowing tenure simply will not have an effect proportional to the efforts that Ms. Brown and others put into it.

The evidence:

States where teachers do not have tenure neither fire more teachers nor do better educating students.

  1. States without tenure laws do not get better results. The data is in. Mississippi? No tenure, lowest preforming state in 2014. Massachusetts? Tenure, highest performing state in 2014.
  2. In my home state of Wisconsin we do not have tenure laws. We have lost our bargaining rights and seen our salaries and benefits reduced. But, guess what? More teachers have NOT been fired. Not even in Milwaukee, arguably one of the most troubled cities in America in terms of poverty, racism, and education.
  3. Even if tenure laws where changed, school systems do not have a handle on the complexity needed in evaluating the relative worthiness of teachers. Principals are smart enough to know that the problems that plague under-performing schools are myriad and cannot be fixed by firing a teacher or two.

The BIGGER problem: 

We are not addressing the bigger problems. There are things we can do if we want to help American schools do better. We can fight to reduce poverty. We can better fund early childhood, ESL, and special education programs. We can commit to having deep conversations on the effects that racism has on the learning and success of students of color. We can fight for a fair and equal system for school funding. We can look to other countries and our own for schools that work and implement those strategies.

My point: 

Campbell Brown, shame on you! You have the influence to do something that would truly matter for children in America. But, you choose to focus on this non-issue all the while whining that anyone who disagrees with you is trying to silence the debate.

You are throwing up smokescreens that silence real issues in irrevocable ways. It’s not to late to pick an effort that will really matter to our beautiful children and thus to society as a whole.


  1. Great article, Rita and right on point. Attacking tenure is just another way reformers distract the public from the real issues impacting learning.

  2. Russ, that is just it in a nutshell! Too bad.