The hard-charging chancellor of the Washington, DC schools, Michelle Rhee (all of 38!), has proposed what teachers unions must believe is unthinkable. But the plan is nothing short of sheer genius.
What is it?
Ms. Rhee has proposed spectacular raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure.I considered being a teacher, but the salary structure just didn't work for me. It used to be that some or many of the best and brightest went into the profession. These days, fewer do, to the point that it is almost laughable.
This idea will not end tenure, meant originally to provide professors with academic freedom. But it is a great start.
Ms. Rhee has not proposed abolishing tenure outright. Under her proposal, each teacher would choose between two compensation plans, one called green and the other red. Pay for teachers in the green plan would rise spectacularly, nearly doubling by 2010. But they would need to give up tenure for a year, after which they would need a principal’s recommendation or face dismissal.Hear, hear!
Teachers who choose the red plan would also get big pay increases but would lose seniority rights that allow them to bump more-junior teachers if their school closes or undergoes an overhaul. If they were not hired by another school, their only options would be early retirement, a buyout or eventual dismissal.
In an interview, Ms. Rhee said she considered tenure outmoded.
“Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions,” she said, “but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don’t have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too.”
Most good teachers won't care. One teacher who went into the profession thanks to Teach for America (a great program, BTW -- two of my friends were in the inaugural class) said “Isn’t it funny? I don’t even know if I have tenure. To me, tenure is not a motivator; I motivate myself. It just doesn’t mean a lot to me.”
Good teachers that do care just don't get it. Another award winning-teacher said she was afraid of being critical of the district: “Don’t ask me to give up tenure, not even for a moment.” But dig -- if you are that good a teacher and get fired for criticizing your decrepit schools (i.e., telling the truth), you'll find another job in about five seconds, and probably one that pays really well, too.