Jun 8 • 3M

Teacher tenure needs to go

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Alright gang. I’m back on my political bullshit. Get ready for a lot more Alabama politics than you’re used to from me.

So, a ton of Alabama teachers are getting pink slips before the new school year. Now, as far as I can remember, this is normal for Alabama.

Why? Tenure.

If an Alabama teacher teaches three consecutive years at the same school, on their fourth year they’re automatically granted tenure for the rest of their career. Schools do not love this. That’s because it’s nearly impossible to fire a tenured Alabama teacher. When I was in school this meant our AP History teacher taught Holocaust denialism.

Here’s what it’s like to try to fire a tenured teacher in Alabama:

Imagine yourself at your job. You’re performing poorly or acting inappropriately. In order to fire you, your boss must get approval from the board of directors. Then they have to hire a lawyer to fight your (union-provided) lawyer about whether or not they can fire you. The board has to vote. Then you can appeal to the Alabama Bar Association. Then the ABA finds a retired judge for another hearing. If that judge wants to fire you, you then appeal to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Your lawyer and the union lawyer write briefs and give oral arguments to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals, who then rules on the appeal. You then contest the decision by filing a request to appeal with the Alabama Supreme Court. Another set of written and oral arguments. Then the Alabama Supreme Court rules on the appeal.

This is a years-long process which costs school districts hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Which is why, during the 2010–2011 school year, Alabama fired zero tenured teachers for being ineffective or grossly ineffective.

This is bad.

Common sense, and data, shows incompetent teachers substantially and measurably hinder a kid’s chances of success in school and life. A substantial percentage of teachers are “grossly ineffective.” These teachers cost their kids 9.5 months of learning per year. These kids miss out of $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom. They’re more likely to have kids as teens, not go to college, and earn lower salaries their entire lives. Replacing the worst 5%–8% of teachers with average teachers (not great, or even good ones) would add trillions of dollars to the economy.

And, of course, low-income and minority students are more likely to have “grossly ineffective” teachers.

Now, you’d expect schools to fire teachers after their third year. But if they do that, the AEA (Alabama’s main teachers union) will bitch-slap them. So most schools just automatically fire most of their first-year teachers at the end of each school year.

By the way, part of the reason Alabama schools are firing more teachers than usual is that public school enrollment is down. That’s partially because a lot of Alabama parents are sending their kids to charter schools. The 2020-2021 school year saw a 65% increase in charter school enrollment in Alabama. Charter schools don’t extend tenure to their teachers. Coincidence?

Also by the way, the process outlined above is actually streamlined from what it was like before a 2011 law made it easier to fire tenured teachers in Alabama. Now, it’s easier to fire a teacher who has sex with students (also a thing at my high school) or fabricate their credentials. But it’s still basically impossible to fire a tenured teacher for being demonstrably bad at their job.

I’m no education expert, but it really seems like teacher tenure has vastly outlived its utility and needs to go, now.