Press Conference Statement on Teacher Tenure

Teachers are Professionals

by Jim Bearden

Teachers are professionals and public servants, like public safety professionals, health professionals, clergy, and others. They are not factory workers in industry. They do not have a bottom line of profits or value added.

Teachers are at the center of a group of often conflicting interests:

  1. Students with varying needs and interests
  2. Parents with varying needs and interests
  3. Principals and school administrators (who are also under pressure)
  4. School Superintendents
  5. School Boards
  6. State Education Department officials
  7. State legislatures
  8. Governors
  9. School reform movements with various and conflicting agendas

They also have their own professional pride about being good educators who work for the best interest of their students.

The attack on teacher tenure is part of a larger attempt to turn teachers into wage workers who can be dismissed at will.

A California Superior Court Judge in Vergara v. California ruled that California’s state laws on teacher tenure are unconstitutional. In his opinion he accepted an economic argument that in essence equates teachers with factory workers.

A group of economists took data on NYC teachers and students over a 20-year period, 1989 to 2009, and calculated a “value added” variable for each teacher for each year. This value added variable is based on comparison of the change in student test scores from tests given at different times. The difference in test score between tests is taken to indicate how much the child has progressed between the tests.

They statistically controlled these differences by student demographics (gender, race/ethnicity, previous student performance, parents’ income, and the performance of other students in the class). After “explaining” the variation in test score difference with these variables, the remainder is assumed to be the teacher’s value added.

They then correlated these teacher value added scores with student’s income at age 28, years after they have left school. As a result of this correlation they claim that students who had teachers with higher value added scores tended to have higher incomes. In fact they are very precise, value added scores one standard deviation greater tended to increase student income at age 28 by 1.34%, $286 per year.

I object to “value added” calculations for several reasons.

  1. Teachers do, and are expected to do, many more things than raise test scores or students’ future income.
  2. Even accepting the concept value added we find that one teacher’s value added score varies quite a lot from year to year. This variation is essentially random and is inherent in the kind of observational statistical study these economists did.
  3. This entire approach to educational “reform” assumes that teachers are workers and should learn to do as they are told in the way they are told to do it. It undermines the intellectual and moral foundation of education. It takes the care out of the teaching.

I want our children to go to schools where intelligent caring professionals will work with students and parents to help each child appropriately. Teacher tenure provides protection for the kind of teachers I think we need. I trust teachers to do the right thing for their students.



Measuring the Impacts of Teachers I: Evaluating Bias in Teacher Value-Added Estimates

Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, and Jonah E. Rockoff

National Bureau of Economic Research

Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood

Raj Chetty, John N. Friedman, and Jonah E. Rockoff

National Bureau of Economic Research


Adler, Moshe. 2014 “Review of Measuring the Impacts of Teachers.” National Education Policy Center. Retrieved July 30, 2014 (


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