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How to Avoid the Munchkins: A Little Tenure Reform Advice for Kansas

The teachers union may have ordered the death of its own bill to weaken mutual consent for teacher placement. But HB 1268‘s twin, the CEA’s lawsuit to enshrine tenure protections as a state constitutional right, lives on.

Meanwhile, a glimpse across the eastern border reveals the winds surrounding this debate are blowing in a very different direction. A weekend article from the Kansas City Star reports that Kansas leaders are having a heated debate about some late-developing significant tenure reform:

For generations, the state promised that before getting canned teachers could get an appeal. If a hearing officer disagreed with the teacher’s bosses, the instructor stayed in the classroom.

In eleventh-hour logrolling in the Legislature, that tenure-lite protection was wiped out by lawmakers venting the conviction that such safeguards intended to protect teachers from ax-grinding bosses serve mostly to coddle the lazy and incompetent.

The article delivers the unsurprising news that the state’s teachers union is up in arms, as well as the somewhat more surprising news that the school board association thinks the proposal goes too far.

The argument that teachers, regardless of performance, deserve some special right to their job denied to 99 percent of the rest of the working world? I don’t find it in the least bit compelling. How does it help students to make it difficult to remove a poorly performing teacher from the classroom? How does it help taxpayers to make it more expensive to remove that one teacher than to train or pay a great teacher for a year or more worth of work?

Having made clear my strong support for the principle of tenure reform, I hope that Kansas leaders also are observing, or will observe, a couple cautionary notes. First, don’t focus on tenure reform alone as a way to boost instructional quality. Work on building an authentic, credible, and transparent system of paying educators according to how well they improve student learning.

Second, don’t just dismiss fears about good teachers losing their jobs due to an ineffective administrator. Do something like Colorado did in SB 191 to align principals’ incentives with teachers’ incentives. Evaluate school leaders on the same measures of student success used in individual classrooms. We want to weed out instructors who are bad for students, not who are bad for bureaucrats.

Taken together, this approach should help clarify and strengthen the case that union leadership is out of touch with many teachers.

In the humble opinion of this perpetual 5-year-old, it’s also a great way to keep the winds of the tenure reform debate from turning into an old-fashioned Kansas tornado. Then you’re not hearing from me; it’s worse than that. You’d be overwhelmed by dozens of other munchkins — the kind who wear gaudy costumes, dance, and sing about mythical wizards.

So maybe I exaggerate for effect… a little. But the advice is good. Not just for Kansas, but also for Colorado, as its leaders hopefully someday pursue more tenure reform.