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Voice: Want to improve public education? Get rid of tenure

January 26, 2002

The United States dominates the world economy, science and warfare because of a well-educated populace guaranteed free and compulsory public education deeded to it by the Constitution.

California pubic education is a monolithic empire, stubborn to change and waspish to criticism. It has militant teachers' unions. State law grants a property right to teachers — a beast named tenure — that is unique among licensed practitioners. Tenure is like a marriage between teacher and school district, complete with blessings and liabilities.

Public school teachers are underpaid relative to other duly licensed practitioners because they have my kids in class for five periods over approximately 183 days during the year. Teachers have a tightly controlled environment — complete with a known set of pupils, not random clients or patients — backed up by disciplinary force of law granted to the school board and its administration.

A constellation of galactic problems exists in education because too few parents and citizens are involved and pushing for effective change — in their homes, on the local and state level — to make their kids and government mind. Apathy rules among parents, students and large percentages of teachers.

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Scores on SAT math and verbal have not kept pace with increased spending. Forbes Magazine published a graph from the U.S. Department of Education and College Entrance Examination Board depicting yields and budgets crossing paths. SAT scores peaked in 1969 — and money keeps elevating. That is a losing return on investment.

Tenure for teachers and their bellyaching unions is a millstone that grinds down the needed seeds of change into grist for keeping on faculty bad or lazy teachers. If you are licensed to practice education — and you think you're a great teacher, earning plaudits and accolades — tenure is superfluous to your job.

School boards recognize the shortage borne of the marketplace. Eliminating tenure will cut out lazy and bad teachers — and free up money for the hungry and effective ones. Want more money? Instruct more days and elevate scores.

Imperial school's teachers' union representative, Thomas Hepburn, said in "Voice of the People," that "many qualified teachers leave Imperial after a year or two." Did any tenured teachers leave for higher pay? Did the school board cut them loose because they were afraid to grant tenure to teachers who — as Elydia Gonzalez wrote in response to Mr. Hepburn — are "greedy and self-serving"?

Imperial Unified and concerned parents may see it like Oscar Wilde said, "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

DAVID BONIFACE

El Centro

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