Co-authored by: Glen Dalgleish: Parent, Education Advocate, co-Founder “Stop Common Core in New York State”.

David Greene: Teacher, Parent, Author: Doing The Right Thing: A Teacher Speaks, Public Education Advocate. Treasurer Save Our Schools March, Program Consultant WISE Services.

Since the Vergara ruling in California, there has been a lot of discussion about “tenure” but there has also been a lot of different interpretations what it actually means and unfortunately there has also been a lot of misinformation. Glen and I will try and put some more clarity around the subject with this brief description and explanation. We also hope to try and demonstrate its significance in a teacher’s professional life.


What Tenure is:

“Tenure is legal protection granted to some teachers that requires the school district to prove just cause before a termination. Tenure is obtained through a multi-year evaluation process of a teacher in a probationary track position and usually requires a vote of the governing body of the school. Once tenure is granted, a teacher is no longer considered an “at-will” employee (an employee that can be terminated for any reason at any time). Rather, to terminate an employee with tenure, a school district must show that it has “just cause” to do so, typically at a hearing before an arbitrator.”


What Tenure is not: Tenure is NOT a lifetime job guarantee. This is a key point to remember as we believe this where a lot of the misinformation stems from. It is up to administrators, not boards, to make the right decision about tenure at this point. In NYS, they have 3 years to determine the quality of each of their new teachers.

“Merely working in a position that has the potential to become tenured is not a guarantee that a teacher will be granted tenure at the end of the evaluation period.” Notably, as with any adverse employment action, denial of tenure cannot be based on certain factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, age, gender, national origin, religion, disability, race, or sexual orientation. Additionally, tenure cannot be denied based on a reason that is “arbitrary and capricious.” In other words, the school district must have a good faith reason to deny tenure.

Contrary to what some claim, under New York law a teacher’s tenure CAN be revoked. However tenure can only be revoked for “just cause” and the subject teacher is entitled to a hearing. The hearing is sometimes referred to as a “3020-a” hearing because of the section of the education law that governs the process. If the hearing officer determines that “just cause” exists, tenure is revoked and the teacher may be terminated.”


What prevents more poor teachers from being fired? Until 2012, a major factor was the law itself but since then it has been streamlined to speed up the process. However it has been and still is up to school administrators to do their due diligence in using the law to rid their school of teachers unfit to teach. Many delays are caused by the administrators themselves by not proceeding in a timely manner.


Why do Teachers need tenure? Teachers should not be fired for grounds that are “arbitrary and capricious.” Tenure guarantees that teachers will get due process. “Countless teachers from Southern states without tenure are afraid to do the things that New York teachers do all the time – do creative work in classrooms, or write blogs, write letters to the editor, even show up to a rally – because they could lose their jobs for speaking out. All working people should have such protections.”


Why do school districts need tenure? “It is important to dismiss ineffective teachers, but also to attract and retain effective teachers. In fact, eliminating tenure will do little to address the real barriers to effective teaching in impoverished schools, and may even make them worse. The reason has to do with the many ways that the role of teachers in the labor market has changed in recent decades.

When few professions were open to highly skilled women, schools could hire them for low salaries. Now, teaching must compete with other professions. That has made it hard to recruit the best candidates. One of the few things that has always helped to recruit good people into teaching is tenure and the due process guarantee it comes with, especially with lower salaries compared to other professions with both undergraduate and graduate school requirements for permanent certification. As mentioned, this does not mean teachers are never dismissed — it just means it cannot be done without “just cause”.

A recent study discovered…firing bad teachers actually makes it harder to recruit new good ones, since new teachers don’t know which type they will be. That risk can be offset with higher salaries — but that in turn could force increases in class size.

Where have all the potential good new teachers gone? Law, Medicine, Finance, and Business. The real question is how to change that!

The “due process” afforded by tenure does not make teachers more special then other professions that do not enjoy this, it does however make them stronger advocates for our children and allows them to speak up without the fear of unfair retaliation. Something Common Core has taught us is invaluable to all.