Where Does the Idea of Tenure Come From?

The concept of tenure is rooted in higher education, where it was implemented in order to provide protection to professors so that they could pursue politically charged and controversial research without fear of retribution from their administrations.  Then, in 1885, the National Education Association (NEA) began to advocate for tenure in the public school setting – in order to protect a group of state employees who, at that point in history, had few protections: the then-disenfranchised class of college-educated women. Before teacher tenure was established, public schools benefited greatly from the limitations placed on these women – gaining a monopoly on a capable and educated workforce that did not require high wages or high-quality working conditions.

In 1909, New Jersey passed the first teacher tenure law to protect teachers from unfair labor conditions and termination decisions. Today, most states have some form of teacher tenure, including Connecticut.

Gaining and Maintaining Tenure in CT

In Connecticut, a teacher receives tenure after staying in the profession for four years.  In most districts, whether teachers are effective at helping their students learn has little or no bearing on their ability to earn or retain tenure.  Rather, all too often, tenure is treated as a given for teachers after four years.  Unfortunately, once a teacher receives tenure, he or she receives significant job protections, such as seniority and the right to bump non-tenured teachers out of their positions. Take a second to think about how illogical that is – especially considering that tenured status is not an indication of whether a teacher is effective!

Just imagine that you run a small school that is in the unfortunate position of having to dismiss a teacher due to budget constraints.  Even if the most recently hired non-tenured teacher in your school has been recognized as the Teacher of the Year – he or she will still be first in line for dismissal – even if you know that the tenured teachers in your building are far less effective at helping students learn.

Dismissing a Tenured Teacher in CT

Once a teacher earns tenure in this state, he or she can only be dismissed for specific, statutorily outlined reasons – none of which includes the possibility of dismissing a tenured teacher who doesn’t do a good job of teaching.  If you run a school and you want to dismiss a tenured teacher because his or her students simply aren’t learning, you can only do so if you can prove total incompetence. (As legal standards go – that’s a difficult concept to prove before an arbitrator.)

Even if the employing school or district can somehow prove that a tenured teacher should be dismissed for one of the statutorily outlined reasons, and even if that tenured teacher has nobody to bump in his or her place. . . that tenured teacher can still appeal a dismissal decision to the Superior Court!  In other words, once tenure is earned, it entitles a teacher to lengthy and costly due process protectionsbefore dismissal, which can take over a year!

Don’t Teachers Deserve Employment Protections?

The president of the NEA has lamented the recent nationwide attack on tenure because, he says, teachers should be protected from being fired for the wrong reasons. And he is absolutely right.

That’s why teachers already are protected – with or without tenure laws. Since the time when teacher tenure laws were originally adopted, labor laws have been put into place to protect employees against abuses and unfair dismissals. There are also federal protections against discrimination today. Teachers already are protected against being fired for the wrong reasons.  Today, tenure in its current form is no longer necessary because teachers are already protected from arbitrary or discriminatory dismissals by other bodies of law.

On February 8th, Governor Malloy announced in his State of the State address that “today tenure is too easy to get and too hard to take away” and declared that it is time to reform tenure laws in Connecticut.  We agree.  Tune in Wednesday as we discuss Governor Malloy’s plan to reform tenure and our thoughts on his proposal.

8 thoughts on “A Look at Connecticut’s Current Teacher Tenure Policies

    • admin says:

      Lots of protections, Wayne! Labor law is an entire field of law because there are so many rules and regulations to prevent unfair employment practices.

      But here are just some examples:
      At the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits job discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, sex or religion – and the United States Supreme Court has held this law to mean that neither private nor public employers can fire an employee where there are discriminatory implications – unless the employer can give a justification on the grounds of a “business necessity”.

      At the State level, Title 31 of the Connecticut General Statutes contains a compilation of all of the rules that an employer has to follow with respect to his treatment of his employees. This is where you find, for instance, CT’s rules about how many hours an employee can be made to work, about minimum wage, about standards for sanitation, about insurance, about workers’ compensation, etc. These rules are overseen by an entire department in our state government, the Department of Labor, and you can find out more on their website.

      The point is that – both at the federal and the state level – American citizens are protected by the law from unfair employment practices. That includes teachers. And it includes everyone who is not a teacher too. We all deserve protection so that we are treated fairly, and we all have it. No tenure required.

      • Chris Dutro says:

        OK, ADMIN, none of those “protections” apply to the teaching situation that is protected by the Due Process aspects of Teacher tenure. Workers Comp? Sanitation? Insurance? Discrimination for sex and/or religion? You are not living in the real world if you are trying to claim those are problems Teachers face when arbitrary and capricious administrators just plain don’t like you. You can be a great Teacher, recognized, lauded… but an administrator can come in and just plain dislike the way you ARE… not the way you WORK, and can INVENT a bad work record about you. This happens ALL THE TIME.

  1. Jennine Lupo says:

    I believe I’m a strong teacher and I personally don’t worry about losing tenure for myself. But many Connecticut state residents do not understand the local budget process in our cities and towns and I fear this whole hub bub over tenure is a smokescreen for conservatives to actually DEFUND our schools.
    I’ve seen superintendents purposefully cut entire departments from schools in order to get rid of teachers that opposed their administrations. Those supers then bring in an annual budget to the Board of Ed which is ‘fiscally responsible’ – said budget goes to referendum, it passes because vocal conservative (often seniors) taxpayer organizations are appeased, said superintendent then has his contract successfully renewed (with compensation details sealed) for another five years. Back at the school where programs are cut – kids have less and less classes to choose from. I’ve actually worked in a town that is now being scrutinized by the state for failing to spend the minimum per pupil cost required by law on students – but that same town is ripe with top heavy administrators.
    There are solutions to our problems
    1) Allow senior citizens a zero tax growth rate if they volunteer in the town. This will maintain the community across generations, allow seniors fair taxation on their limited incomes while still providing for community growth planning free from voter
    blocks.
    2) NO PUBLIC EMPLOYEE SHOULD HAVE A SEALED CONTRACT. If a salary is paid by tax dollars – complete transparency should be maintained.
    3). Teacher prep programs should have a better and more consistent end assessment and evaluation requiring field experience in an urban district. Courses on teaching urban students should also be developed.
    4). Teacher evaluations must be taken in context of the district. If I have a student in my physics class that cannot add exponents or read critically to make inferences – he’s unlikely to master Coulombs Law by the end of my class despite my teaching. Should I be penalized for the poor skill building by his previous instructors? On the other hand, any of my students should be able to demonstrate learning whatever their incoming level – but its unique to the student. Measuring instruments cannot be
    lockstep especially in our most struggling schools.

    When considering reform, be wary of motive… We wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  2. Sarah says:

    A school psychologist was asked by her principal to diagnose students as special ed who were not actually special ed so that they would not take the CMTs (they were dragging down the school’s scores). She refused and could not be fired due to tenure. Which of your laws will protect her after SB 24?
    Keep in mind that the principal did not leave a paper trail of this request, for obvious reasons.

  3. lucy says:

    If I believe my students need services, but there isn’t money to fund the services and my administration wants me to “push” the parent for not requesting services and I disagree for the BENEFIT OF THE STUDENT, how am I protected?

    On another note, you don’t just get tenure after 4 years. You have three evaluations a year for the first three years of teaching by your administrator. If they think you are competent, based on student achievement (what else would they look at? How much fun you are at the end of the year party?), you are kept on the staff. Then after going through that process, plus the TEAM and/or BEST process for two years, you EARN tenure.

    I have seen teacher dismissed in my district because the were ineffective in many ways.

    I really think this organization needs to be more objective and honest in their reporting or dissemination of information. Either you have biases that you are unaware of, have hidden political motivations, or are simply uninformed. Please work with the education system to help our children, not villanize teachers.

    Now is not a time to point fingers and pass the blame. If administrators do their job, like a boss does with a company (hiring and firing workers), we would not have this debate.

  4. Concerned Parent says:

    Tenure was created by school administrators to cut down on movement of the best teachers out of districts. If you want to widen the achievement gap, just get rid of tenure and the best teachers will have no reason to stay where they are now, and like “free agents” will go to the highest bidders in affluent communities.

    • Chris Dutro says:

      That’s an interesting perspective. If they succeed in linking pay to test-score achievement you’ll see more of that. Why would the best Teachers stay in a District that has staggering Poverty, socioeconomic problems, lack of parental involvement, and peer pressure that reject schooling? Go where the money is!

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