Some of you may have seen the article on Teacher Tenure Reform from MSTA's Legislative Director, Mike Wood, in the September issue of Missouri Business magazine. We wanted to share the unedited version with you.
As submitted to the editor of Missouri Business magazine by Mike Wood:
Everyone agrees that having a well qualified, highly motivated and skilled teacher in the classroom is the single most important variable to successful student achievement.
Unfortunately, there are some school reform groups that believe teacher tenure is impeding schools from placing quality teachers in our classroom. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If handled correctly by administrators and school districts, underperforming teachers are removed from the classroom and the current process is concise and inexpensive.
This past legislative session school board members of the Kansas City Missouri School district testified before the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee that teacher tenure was not a barrier to school improvement. In fact, district officials mentioned that they were fine with the tenure system in Missouri, and that having tenure was not keeping them from removing poor performing teachers.
Many of the organizations pushing for the elimination of teacher tenure are from other states and do not understand the tenure system in Missouri. Tenure for Missouri educators is unlike tenure in a university system, and provides due process for a terminated teacher.
To make any reform, or new initiatives work in education, we have to create schools that are supportive, humane, dynamic and creative. Indeed, there are reforms that can be made to the tenure law in Missouri. Currently, Missouri has the longest probationary period for teachers. MSTA would support the lowering of the probationary period to three years. Along with this, MSTA would support making changes to the hearings during the termination proceedings. A tenured teacher that is terminated is allowed a hearing before the local board of education. This is the same board that has already voted to start the termination proceedings on the teacher. MSTA would propose that hearings be held before an independent hearing officer. This would ensure that both the teacher and the school district present fair and relevant information for an impartial, trained, and qualified official who would then render a decision.
Eliminating teacher due process will not do anything to improve student achievement. Quality, on-going professional development and engagement of parents will do much more to improve student achievement than any of the reforms that anti-public education groups have offered.
Teaching is one of the few professions where the level of education and responsibility is not commensurate with the salary received. Teaching is a very difficult job and protecting teachers with tenure allows them to make the hard and many times difficult choices that are in the best interest of the student. Due process ensures that teachers are not arbitrarily terminated for making those tough decisions.
What is disappointing about the tenure reform discussion is that there are other important initiatives that would provide valuable assistance in the efforts to improve schools and teacher performance. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry is in a unique position to bring together business and education leaders to have a conversation about the real needs of Missouri businesses, and how schools can help create an educated work force. Sadly, the Chamber chose to waste time and money advocating for due process repeal rather than concentrating on lasting and meaningful reform.
In many communities across our state, public schools work with local businesses and their chamber of commerce. These types of discussions are necessary to ensure the needs of the community are met. Business can help schools understand their needs, and schools can help businesses meet their demand for a well-educated and trained workforce.
Remember, there are great successes in Missouri. Our graduation rate has increased greatly over the past 10 years. When it comes to students taking advanced placement classes, Missouri ranks 5thnationwide. Statewide test scores continue to improve. Only 4 states scored better than Missouri on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. All of these successes are accomplished with below average funding. Missouri schools receive $315 per student less than the national average in federal funding. We rank 48th in the nation in average teachers salary, and we are $1,355 below the national average in state funding per pupil.
I’m honored to be an advocate for public education and teachers and I believe there are serious conversations that can take place to improve education in Missouri. Unfortunately, debating tenure repeal and other misguided reform efforts keeps leaders from having necessary discussions about education reforms that will positively impact the quality of education for Missouri students.