Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tenure Reform that Misses the Mark

My latest post at the Objective Standard blog is sure to rankle education reformers on the Right.

To be sure, the ironclad tenure policies of the government's public school system in New Jersey is highly destructive of educational quality. It makes it almost impossible to get rid of bad teachers. This kind of "job protection" fosters mediocrity, blocks the upward career momentum of better teachers, and reduces job openings that would result from weeding out the dead wood, thus chasing would-be teachers into other fields.

However, this bill--"Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act,"--does more harm than good. My reasons are spelled out in Scrap New Teacher Tenure Policy; Erect Wall Between Government and Education.

I've already been taken to task by a fellow proponent of free market education reforms for this stance. In a forum where this tenure bill was debated, Mtown_Quaker wrote in response to my criticism of the bill:

   @Z...Let me ask this. In this instance, are you making the perfect (free market) the enemy of incremental movement in that direction (tenure reform)? Now I completely agree - in a truly free market system, education will improve because parents will vote with their dollars. I am with you there.
   That said, should we not 'take what we can get' now, and then be sure to come back for more later? I would be the first to say that it is an imperfect tradeoff of practicality and philosophy.

Here was my response:

Mtown: I’m all for incrementalism, but only if it is an unequivocal move toward a free market. What I’m saying is that tenure reform—or, preferably, elimination—must not be viewed in isolation. An arbitrary formula for evaluating teacher performance administered by central planners is not a free market reform, and could be worse than what we have now. I believe it is simply unfair to both teachers and parents.
Now is the time to take a broader view, and push for genuine market reforms such as those I laid out in this article: [Toward a Free Market in Education: School vouchers or Tax Credits]
I don’t believe there is any tradeoff between practicality and the right philosophy.

The NJ Tenure bill--if it is enacted, as seems likely--is not an incremental move toward a free market. It is a statist solution to a statist-created problem. Worse, it shifts more control of teacher credentialing from the local to the state level. If there are degrees of evil in statism, then the steady shift of education control from the local to the state--and from the state to the federal--level is a continuing ominous development.

I believe free marketeers would do better to focus their activism on education reforms that lead to a genuine free market.

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