One of the most divisive subjects in politics that shouldn’t be divisive at all is education policy. No one believes that investing in the education of young citizens is a “bad” thing for a country to do. Sadly, the U.S. continues to slide down the scale in terms of our academic effectiveness, but rather than figuring out how to fix that, elected officials divide the issue along partisan lines to the detriment of their constituencies.
At the center of this argument are two groups of people, neither of which are students. There are school administrators (and by extension the elected officials who determine education policy) and teachers (and by extension the unions that represent them). For the teachers, they want to earn a good living and have job-security, often through tenure. The story of an adjunct professor from Pittsburgh, PA last fall who died in poverty highlighted how bad it can be for career educators without that security.
On the other hand, with budgets for every agency a concern and the “results” unsatisfactory, administrators seek ways to save money. One such example is in North Carolina, where teachers are being advised to forgo tenure and enter into an “Apprentice, Master, or Career” teaching track, limiting them to a career of only 20 years.
Opponents argue that this leads to an increased turnover rate for teachers that is both unfair and simply bad policy. The argument against tenure suggests that it demotivates teachers, inspiring them to be lazy and care little about their students’ progress. This is a patently flawed understanding of tenure.
While the specifics of tenure agreements vary from institution to institution, the fundamental idea is that teachers should have protection from the administrators (in this case, those who finance the school) ensuring that their only worry is educate and, in some cases, spearhead some kind of academic innovation or research.
This limited view of the problem of education also completely absolves students of any responsibility. Rather than worrying about how to motivate educators, administrators might better spend their time motivating the students themselves. Only no solution will ever present itself as long as the education debate is framed as Government against Teachers’ Unions.