A Look at Connecticut’s Current Teacher Tenure Policies

February 13, 2012 • General

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.