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CAP Releases Tenure Primer

Feeling the need for some R & R? Well, the dynamic duo of Robin Chait and Raegen Miller over at the Center for American Progress have written what amounts to a primer on the issue of teacher tenure, the job protection granted to teachers who fulfill the terms of a probationary period.

It couldn't come at a better time: Teacher tenure seems poised to emerge as one of the big teacher-quality issues in 2009, with D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee trying to overhaul it as part of her district's contract negotiations, New York City confronting the use of test scores in tenure decisions, higher education increasingly doing away with tenure, and reformers in the arena of strategic management of human capital scrutinizing its place in the teacher-quality continuum, since teacher evaluation is frequently linked to tenure practices.

Here's the key quote from the report.

"Most conversations about tenure are short ones. Opponents of tenure assert that it makes firing lousy teachers impossible. Proponents counter that tenure is essential to protect teachers from arbitrary dismissal. Advocates on either side tend to be passionate, leaving little room for a rational debate, much less policy innovation."

That pretty well sums up where we are. And, as the report makes clear, this is one of those teacher-quality elements that has grown increasingly complex given the state-local nature of teacher policies. States, the paper notes, set many of the basic parameters around tenure, such as the length of teachers' probationary periods. But these can be supplemented by local policies, such as in Baltimore, which grants tenured teachers more sick time; or overwritten, as is the case in Wisconsin. Courts have also taken different points of view on what constitutes "cause" for removing teachers who have been granted tenure.

The report calls for more research on how tenure policies affect the quality, distribution and turnover of teachers.

Once you're done with the paper, read my colleague Vaishali's take on the tenure issue here, in which she poses the all-important question: If there are problems in our current tenure system, how the heck do we reform it?

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