The Issue of Tenure

by , under Local Activism, Professional Issues

The Issue

The recent attacks on tenure — such as the legal case now before a California appeals court, the lawsuit filed by a group of students on Staten Island and another threatened in New York by a right-wing front group headed by former television celebrity Campbell Brown — are utterly without merit and simply nothing more than an all-out attack on the fundamental labor rights of working people by the wealthy elite and anti-union forces. NYSUT will mount an aggressive and vigorous challenge to any attempt to strip New York’s dedicated teachers of this essential and fundamental right — which is a vital safeguard ensuring quality education, academic freedom and classroom stability.

Where We Stand

  • Though it’s been on the books for more than a century, New York State’s tenure law remains wildly misunderstood. Tenure does not mean a job for life. Nor does it protect bad teachers. Tenure simply means that a teacher cannot be terminated for cause without having formal charges presented and without the fundamental right of due process, which ensures a fair hearing. Due process is an American value and is in our Bill of Rights. Constitutional protections apply to all Americans and are not reserved only for the wealthy elite.
  • Tenure is also a protection that must be earned. Under the law, teachers must prove themselves by serving a probationary period of three years. During that time, school officials have an obligation to carefully evaluate that teacher’s job performance. If after three years — some 550 school days and, perhaps, more than 2,500 classes — the local school board votes to grant a teacher tenure, that teacher is simply entitled to a fair hearing before a neutral third party if accused of incompetence or wrongdoing.
  • Tenure is not a cause of low-student achievement. In fact, tenure helps safeguard children’s ability to receive a quality education and ensures classroom stability because it provides teachers the freedom to advocate for their students without fear of reprisal. Because tenure exists, teachers in New York can — and do — speak out against the state’s obsession with standardized testing. Tenure enables teachers to speak out against underfunding and vital cuts to academic programs. And tenure protects teachers when they speak out about conditions that pose a threat to a student’s welfare.
  • The concept of tenure is not unique. Similar protections requiring due process are granted to other public-service professionals including police officers and firefighters. Blaming low-student achievement on teacher tenure — (a meritless claim that is not supported by any evidence) — is like blaming the due process granted to police officers for crime, and blaming the due process granted to firefighters for fire.
  • New York’s teacher tenure law was amended in 2012 to address criticism that 3020-a due process hearings took too long and cost too much. Now, all hearings, by law, must be resolved within 155 days from the point in which formal charges are presented against a teacher. The improved tenure law means that, in those rare cases in which the public trust is violated, guilty teachers are being fired more quickly. And, when school districts misuse the law or bring baseless charges, innocent teachers are being returned to the classroom more swiftly.
  • It is important to note: even prior to the 2012 amendment to the tenure law, 84 percent of discipline cases brought against teachers were resolved before ever reaching the hearing stage, according to a NYSUT legal review.
  • Teachers’ unions do not negotiate tenure. The first statewide tenure statute was enacted in 1917 (and before that in NYC) — 50 years before public-sector unions existed in New York State.
  • If the wealthy elite and anti-union forces truly care about enhancing the quality of public education in New York state, they would partner with parents and unions in fighting for state budgets that ensured equitable and adequate funding for all schools and in opposing the state’s tax cap, which exacerbates the significant fiscal constraints under which schools are being forced to operate. Instead, however, the wealthy elite and anti-union forces are missing-in-action in these critically important battles.
  • The real reason some of our public schools are struggling is poverty. All of our students deserve a quality education — not just those who happen to be the children of hedge fund millionaires. But poverty is an issue never addressed by the wealthy elite because they don’t want to pay their fair share in taxes.
  • The obscene profit-motivated attacks on the rights of working people in places like California and New York are why America no longer has the world’s largest middle class. Fundamental rights for workers are essential to a decent standard of living in New York State. And fundamental rights for teachers are essential to fairness and defending what students need.