Gimme Tenure

Imagine this scenario:  You are interviewing for a job.  The HR person asks you, “Why do you want to work here?”  You say, “Uh, I have a degree in this field and I’m a people person.”

HR Person:  ” Okay, we will keep your resume on file and let you know if or when we have any openings. Do you have any questions?”

You:  “Tell me about your benefits.”

HR:  “We have a 401(k) matching program, we pay half your health insurance and a free candy bar vending machine.”

You:  “What about tenure?’

HR:  “Huh?”

You:  “You know,  when you get to keep the job forever. What year does that kick in?”

HR:  “Never.  We have an innovative program known as merit-based employment. It simply means that you are rewarded with pay increases and promotions based on how well you perform.”

You:  “But what about getting rewarded for being around year after year?  Aren’t there rewards based on experience?  I mean if I make it for say two or three years, wouldn’t you just guarantee me the job forever?  I wouldn’t even have to get big raises beyond cost-of-living.”

HR:  “No.  We have found that actually rewarding people for getting better and creating value works as a huge incentive.  We’ve learned that doing a great job is measurable and the good performers find great satisfaction and even joy in knowing their work will be recognized.  Conversely, they know and agree that if they underperform they don’t get to keep their job.”

You:  “You mean you fire people?!”

HR:  “Yes, we have let people go who just got older, but not better.”

You:  “Do you know of any industries that have tenure programs?”

HR:  “Not anyplace in the private sector.  You might try government.”

Sounds crazy doesn’t it?  Today our public education system is failing.   The problems are complex and challenging.  But to me one irrefutable fact is that tenure for teachers is a huge barrier to great public education.

Tenure means that regardless of your ability and regardless how well your students perform (i.e. learn) you get to have your job… forever.


Don’t get me wrong, there are many wonderful and inspiring teachers.  Our sons have had some of them.  But there are teachers who are simply incompetent.  Yet to remove a teacher takes an act of Congress. (And we know how well that works.) The cost and time involved to get a bad teacher ousted makes it prohibitive.  So they stay and stay.

It’s time to end this madness.  There are innovative programs unfolding around the country where teachers who do well based on how well their students perform can make six-figure salaries.  And the ones who don’t perform get fired.

Just like in the real world.

Read this article in Newsweek. It provides a good overview about this important issue.  Then start advocating for rewarding great teachers and firing lousy ones.

It’s for the kids.


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