Friday, July 25, 2014

How Much Money Is Tenure Worth?

Economist Allison Schrager is quoted over at Yahoo putting forth the idea that tenure is worth cold hard cash.

Certainly this is not the first time the idea has been introduced. She Who Will Not Be Named tried in DC to introduce a plan to have a non-tenure big-buck track. This failed to get traction, perhaps because it's hard not to see trading tenure for big bucks as being synonymous with trading a an actual career for just one more year of teaching. And in North Carolina (motto "We're the Seventh Circle of Teacher Hell, but We Want To Dig Deeper") the money-for-tenure trade has been offered as well. Of course, the problem there is that the legislature has no idea where the money for the tenure-buyout-bonuses would come. I imagine a sort of reverse Ponzi scheme-- once they get things get going, they can pay this year's tenure-buyout-bonus by firing the teachers who have no tenure because they took the bonus last year. There's no way it can fail.

So it's possible that tenure could have monetary value to teachers, but maybe that the value is currently equal to all the money they expected to make during the rest of their career, because that's what taking one of these tenure-for-cash deals would cost them-- the rest of their careers. DC schools were never going to keep teachers on at $130K a year for thirty years.Take a pay raise, then take a hike.

Kudos to Yahoo for not simply repeating Schrager's Bloomsburgh column (though they didn't link to it, either), but pulling in Alan Singer to point out, politely, that Schrager's idea is fully stuffed with bovine fecal matter.

What we call tenure is, of course (and I say "of course" even though the world is full of people who seem not to know this), a job protection that guarantees due process, so that teachers cannot be fired for disagreeing with a school board member or administrator.

Ultimately, Singer said, from the teachers’ point of view, “freedom and money are not equivalent. Freedom should never be exchanged for money.”

I'm going to agree with Schrager here. I think tenure is a valuable benefit that is worth actual money. But here's where we part ways-- I would argue that tenure has monetary value to the school district.

Tenure helps insure the school district as an entity that a school cannot be trashed by a single disastrous individual. Whether we are talking about a bad principal or a egregious board member, tenure gives the school district a buffer, a way to protect its teachers and thereby protect its mission. Tenure is why parents in districts rarely say, "Well, Bogswallow High used to be a great place, but we had a principal who came in, fired all the best teachers and replaced them with his buddies, and now it sucks." Tenure is why parents rarely say, "Don't bother trying to get anything done about it. Everybody who works at that school is so scared of Board Member McCrazypants that they won't say or do a thing."

Yes, yes, yes, that kind of thing happens right now in some places. That's my point. How much worse would it be if there were no tenure, if teachers could not say, "You can try to make me miserable, but you can't take my job."

Tenure has value to districts in helping them avoid the costs of replacing staff, of recruiting replacements, of dealing with all the internal problems that would come with a staff that does not feel safe to use the full range of their professional skills and judgment. Tenure saves school districts money. It has monetary value to them, and because it costs them nothing to give it to teachers, it is a huge bargain.

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