« PreviousContinue »
party, is a declaration of the principle that Justice to servants is essential to good service, and that justice is incompatible with the tenure of office, which carries with it no ownership or interest on the part of the incumbent.
The essence of the civil service reform consists in its aim to substitute a permanent tenure of office for the short and uncertain tenure ; all the rest is incidental. This carries with it appointments and promotions by merit, and not by favoritism. This revolution in public sentiment has made the opportunity to undertake a reform in the status of the teacher by making his tenure of office permanent To secure a permanent tenure of office for teachers in the public schools is the next great step to be taken in the interest of the people's schools. In my judgment this is the most important educational reform of our school system that has ever been undertaken. The substitution of the permanent tenure for the present precarious limited tenure would doubtless be regarded by teachers as a great boon, but I am looking more especially to the public welfare, — the public interest is the paramount interest.
The theory which it is my present purpose to propound and advocate is this : Permanency of tenure would enormously increase the desirableness of the teacher's status ; that while it costs nothing to the public to grant this permanency, to the teachers it would be an inestimable boon; that, as a means of compensating teachers, it would be equivalent to a vast increase of school revenue ; that the salary, even though raised to the highest practicable limit, when subject to the offset of short and precarious tenure, with all its train of evils, is insufficient to bring into the service of teaching, and retain there the requisite teaching talent. In substance, then, the question of permanent tenure for teachers is, in the first place, a question of economy, — the question of conservation of forces; that is, the question whether the money compensation of teachers shall be in effect largely supplemented by what costs nothing. In the second place, it is a question of educational results, — for salary plus permanent tenure is the indispensable condition of the ideal teaching corps, and hence the indispensable condition of the ideal school and the ideal education,
The reasoning on which this theory is based is ex. tremely simple, and is the following:
1. Permanancy of situation everywhere and always counts largely with the salary in estimating the emolument of the situation, and it is self-evident that these two elements together are greater than one of them alone.
2. The addition of permanency of tenure to salary is necessary to make teaching a career sufficiently attractive for persons of ability and culture, as a life work, and it is only from such persons devoted to teaching as a life work that the best teaching can come.
This reasoning is the plain lesson of history, which he who runs may read. It is well known that the German States, and more especially Prussia, took the lead in the organization and development of the modern system of public instruction. And it appears that in Prussia from the outset the life tenure of office for the teachers was adopted as the first principle of the incipient system; and, in fact, the Prussian law long ago expressly prohibited the appointment of any regular teacher for a determinate period. This was the original stock upon which improvements were from time to time grafted, until at length its present vigor, completeness, and symmetry of development have been produced. Forty years ago Horace Mann thus characterized the teachers produced by this system : “As a body of men their character is more enviable than that of any of the three so-called 'professions.'” In all the other European countries the point of departure and the process of development have been substantially the same. It is safe, I think, to say that in no one of them has it been thought expedient to attempt to carry on a system of schools on the plan of choosing teachers for a short, determinate period.
On the other hand, it seems to have everywhere been taken for granted that there could not be such a thing as an efficient and economical school system without making provision for securing the services of teachers who should be devoted to the business of instruction as a life profession. Accordingly, we find that, although public school teachers have, perhaps, nowhere received entirely satisfactory treatment, they have generally been secure in their position and in their revenues, all too slender though they may have been. Thus the beginning was made by laying a foundation for a status of dignity and independence. This was all important as the initial provision. The rest followed logically, although not without delays and difficulties. As it is the teacher that gives character to the school, which no well-informed person will deny, so we find that most of the measures of progress and improvement have been such as were calculated to ameliorate the condition and elevate the status of the teacher, to provide better professional training, to improve the scheme of examination and certificating of candidates, to increase the compensation, to secure a more competent and trustworthy superintendence and inspection, to afford the best means of appreciating and rewarding merit. These were the objects always uppermost in the aims and efforts of intelligent promoters of educational progress. And thus by degress have been created the conditions requisite to render teaching a veritable career; not a career, indeed, leading to wealth and luxury, but a career of assured independence, dignity, and support.
In our country the point of departure and the process of development have been quite different from those we have considered. We have undertaken to develop and build up an efficient system of instruction while acting on the assumption that the teacher cannot be recognized as having a claim to any ownership in a position of service.
In a French report on English schools it is stated as a curious absurdity, that at the annual meeting of the trustees of a certain old endowed school in London, the headmaster is summoned into their presence, and informed that the term of his service is at an end and the mastership vacant. Thereupon, if he desires to be con. sidered a candidate for reëlection he so states, and retires and waits for the result of the ballot. This is a type of the tenure of office of substantially all American public school teachers. Their position is not assured beyond the term of one year. Nor is this the worst condition of their tenure; there is a lower deep yet. In general, the public school teacher may be dismissed within the year for which he is elected by a majority of the school board, the teacher so dismissed having no legal right to a previous notice, a hearing, or appeal to a superior authority. This is the tenure in Massachusetts, and so far as I have been able to ascertain, it is substantially the same in other states.
Mr. Boutwell, in speaking of this in his commentary on the Massachusetts school law, justly remarks, “This power is as nearly absolute as any power in our government.” In point of law, therefore, the American public school teacher holds office securely not even for the short period of one year. His position, salary, and professional standing are absolutely at the mercy of the local committee. A majority of a quorum of the school board, by a secret ballot, may dismiss him without a day's notice, without bringing any charge against him, and the dismissal so made is absolute and final. This tenure may have some slight safeguards in some states, or some individual cities ; if so, let them be known and credited therefor. The only exception within my knowledge worthy of mention is that of the city of New York, where the tenure is permanent, removals being made only for
It has been ascertained that in the cities of Brooklyn, Jersey City, and Newark, the tenure is also