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Targeting teacher tenure is a misguided solution

Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, founder of Students Matter, which helped lead the court challenge, spoke after a California judge struck down tenure for public school teachers.
Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, founder of Students Matter, which helped lead the court challenge, spoke after a California judge struck down tenure for public school teachers.Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press

The preoccupation with ridding American schools of the supposed plague of irredeemably incompetent teachers, embodied by this month’s ruling in California (“California judge rules teacher tenure laws unconstitutional,” June 11), is another example of a misguided solution to a misdiagnosed problem.

In his decision, Judge Rolf Treu claimed that 1 to 3 percent of California teachers are "grossly ineffective." However, just as voter ID laws are ill-suited to address the minuscule problem of voter fraud, striking down teachers' job protections will not guarantee a high-quality teacher in every classroom.

It is absurd to claim that poor teaching — and the job protections teachers enjoy — is the biggest obstacle to educational equity and opportunity.

Teachers in the United States work more hours, with less time for professional development, than their peers in higher-performing countries. Instead of foisting longer days and more burdensome testing requirements on teachers even as we strip them of job security, we ought to invest in their learning.

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When we assume the worst of teachers, teaching will only become less esteemed as a profession than it already is. As a society that depends on teachers who are committed to their craft, we should have teachers' backs, not put a target on their backs.

James M. Noonan
Jamaica Plain

The writer is a Spencer Foundation early career scholar in new civics at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.