Today, only 70.5 percent of American teens will graduate from high school or vocational school. By contrast, in Finland, the world’s leader in primary education, 93 percent of students will graduate. When it comes to graduation rates, the U.S. is currently ranked number 17 in the list of world nations, bested by Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, and many more. Such statistics have many concerned citizens questioning the state of our school systems. Is the government doing the best job it could do with public education? Should the torch be passed to a more reliable institution to help guide our nation’s youth?
Of all the aspects of public education that come under fire, two of the most debated issues are teacher tenure and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
Teaching tenure gives those who have been working in academic institutions an incredible amount of job security. In theory, tenure is meant to give experienced teachers a bit of freedom to enact unconventional ways of teaching – to “rock the boat,” so to speak – and differentiate these experienced instructors from newer, lesser ones. When a teacher has tenure, he can only be dismissed with just cause, including moral misconduct, state-defined incompetence, or insubordination.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to teacher tenure. Many teachers who achieve this status aren’t exactly illuminating the academic way for their pupils – in fact, many in the field believe that tenured teachers often did nothing to prove themselves worthy of the status. Critics claim that tenure promotes lazy, inadequate teaching and leads to a school system full of bad teachers. Tenure makes it so difficult to fire teachers that 32 teachers in Los Angeles have been paid $50,000 each to leave their positions, and it has become cheaper to send bad teachers to new schools than to simply fire them.
Although other nations use tenure in their educational institutions, the requirements for achieving this status are far stricter. In Hong Kong, for example, teachers who wish to achieve tenure must pass an induction test, which eliminates about 60 percent of them from being considered at all.
Some suggest that rather than tenure, teachers should simply be paid more as they gain more experience. Washington D.C. school superintendent Michelle Rhee went so far as to suggest that teachers be paid up to $130,000 a year on the condition that they would forgo a right to tenure.