Teacher Tenure Reform: Not Just About Bad Teachers
The discussion about teacher tenure reform often focuses on the negative aspects, such as getting rid of bad teachers. What most Missourians don’t realize is that our current tenure law also has important implications for rewarding exceptional teachers.
In 2001, the Sherwood-Cass R-VIII School District attempted to give small bonuses to seven teachers. The district wanted to entice these good teachers to sign two-year contracts instead of typical one-year contracts. The Sherwood National Education Association (NEA) challenged the district’s actions.
The courts ruled in favor of the Sherwood NEA, determining that the state’s Teacher Tenure Act does not allow this “commitment pay.” The Missouri Court of Appeals in Sherwood National Education Association v. Sherwood-Cass R-VIII School District said:
The principle … is that teachers cannot be compensated for their teaching duties in an amount other than what is set forth in the salary schedule without running afoul of the Teacher Tenure Act. Sherwood, 168 S.W.3d 456, 460 (Mo. Ct. App. W.D. 2005) [emphasis added].
The law has been interpreted to say teachers in Missouri cannot receive performance or merit pay of any sort. The decision in Sherwood establishes precedent for other courts and is a strong deterrent to other school districts considering forms of merit pay.
Teacher tenure laws may make it harder to fire teachers, but in Missouri, they have been interpreted to also prevent districts from incentivizing the good ones to stay. As it stands, school districts are discouraged from using basic forms of merit pay to try to prevent attrition of good teachers. Nor can they use merit pay to reward exceptional teachers for a job well done.
All the more reason to say “it is time for teacher tenure reform.”