Ben Barnes
On Monday, Missouri Rep. Scott Dieckhaus (R-Dist. 109) proposed a bill (House Bill 1526) to reform the state's teacher tenure laws. As we have argued before, getting rid of teacher tenure is good for Missouri’s public schools, and this bill is particularly strong for three key reasons:

1. Teachers could be fired for doing a bad job.

Most of us live in a world where doing consistently bad work means you lose your job.

Not so for teachers.

Under the current laws, a tenured teacher can be fired only for egregious conduct, such as willful or persistent violations of the school laws, excessive or unreasonable absences, and felony convictions. Even then, a severely truant teacher would get generous procedural protections from termination: a majority of the school board must vote to fire the teacher, and the teacher can appeal the board’s decision through an administrative hearing.

If this bill passes, boards could not only fire convicted felons, but they could also dismiss teachers for unsatisfactory performance.

2. No more indefinite contracts for teachers.

Most of us also have to live with the reality of at-will employment.

Again, not so for teachers.

Under the current laws, a teacher who survives a five-year probationary period becomes “permanent personnel” with an indefinite contract to teach.

The proposed bill, on the other hand, gives school administrators more discretion to retain teachers they actually want teaching in their schools. Schools could contract directly with teachers for up to four years; and what’s more, the board would retain the power to terminate a multi-year contract if the teacher scored poorly on evaluations.

3. Teachers will get paid for what they do, not how long they have done it.

That is right, teachers do not live with the reality of performance-based pay either.

Under the current laws, school districts are prohibited from basing salaries on performance-related criteria. Instead, districts pay their teachers based on length of service and level of education. The proposed bill removes this prohibition and requires school boards to consider teacher evaluations when making decisions related to pay, retention, promotion, and dismissal.

Not surprisingly, the unions started speaking out against HB 1526 before it was even proposed. Missouri National Education Association President Chris Guinther told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last week: “we’ve got to be given the protection that we need to give those kids the quality education that they need.” Wouldn’t our kids be getting a better education if school boards could dismiss failing teachers more easily, like this bill would allow? The problem with the union perspective is that it focuses on teachers, not on kids. Tenure is not about having due process, as Susan McClintic, president of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, told the Columbia Missourian last week. On the contrary. Teachers do not have a right to their jobs; it is the students who have a right to a public education, and they should have good teachers to boot.

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