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Indefinite Teacher Tenure: A Critical Story of the Historical, Legal, Operative, and Comparitive Aspects

by Cecile Winfield Scott - 1935

Interpreting indefinite teacher tenure as an element of social legislation which must be accepted or rejected on the basis of a national policy or a social philosophy, this investigation purports to ascertain what type of law will protect best the interests of teachers, children, and society.

INTERPRETING indefinite teacher tenure as an element of social legislation which must be accepted or rejected on the basis of a national policy or a social philosophy, this investigation purports to ascertain what type of law will protect best the interests of teachers, children, and society.1 To achieve this end, the history of indefinite teacher tenure laws is traced; existing laws are analyzed and then evaluated criterially; the operation of these laws is demonstrated by a review of related research studies and press comments, by several case studies, and by a detailed treatment of cases of appeal from dismissal that have been decided by higher educational and legal authorities; and teacher tenure and related personnel regulations in six European countries are compared with corresponding facts for the American indefinite tenure states.

Sources of information were: civil service and social legislation literature; education laws of the twelve American indefinite tenure states and of the six European countries; research studies and educational literature; records of discipline cases in several large American cities; records of the Committee on Grievances and Redress of the New Jersey State Teachers Association; and records of appeal cases.

Indefinite teacher tenure is similar to civil service on the score of protection, but is in no sense a merit system. Professional organizations and the civil service are largely responsible for the existence of indefinite teacher tenure laws. Outstanding characteristics of these laws are indefinite wording and incompleteness. Taken as a whole, the laws rate only 59 per cent perfect when measured by the criteria used, and the range is from 38 to 75 per cent.

Operative effects of protective tenure laws disprove a majority of the claims commonly made for indefinite teacher tenure, reveal protection for teachers as its main value, and reveal a number of problems which could be partly or completely solved by carefully framed indefinite tenure and related personnel statutes. Evidence that indefinite tenure is a stabilizing factor, that it makes the profession more attractive, and that it increases interest in professional improvement is so meager that no affirmative conclusion is warranted.

Tenure protection itself is very much the same in the American states and in the European countries studied. However, the latter provide greater safeguards for the profession and for the schools.


Recommendations are made for necessary related personnel provisions as well as for indefinite teacher tenure statutes. Auxiliary legislation recommendations are as follows: (1) relatively large administrative units; (2) stringent certification requirements; (3) retirement provisions; and (4) minimum or graduated salary schedules.

Indefinite teacher tenure recommendations are these:

1. All tenure laws should be intelligently, clearly, and consistently worded.

2. An indefinite tenure statute should apply only in districts sufficiently large to make possible efficient administration of personnel and of all phases of school work.

3. Tenure protection should be available to all educational employees whose chief concern is classroom instruction.

4. Educational employees should be classified as permanent and non-permanent, and the latter group should be further classified as probationers, substitutes, and temporary workers.

5. Tenure for permanent teachers should be indefinite, or continuous, during efficient service and good behavior.

6. The probationary period should be flexible, minimum and maximum lengths being stipulated.

7. Disciplinary authority should be vested in local authorities in charge of school systems. Penalties provided should be: warning; temporary suspension pending trial; temporary suspension as a disciplinary measure; and complete dismissal.

8. Disciplinary procedures outlined should require charges in writing, a hearing if desired by the accused teacher, and orderly serving of all notices.

9. Provision should be made for appeal from disciplinary decisions of local authorities to state departments of education and to the law courts.

10. Provision should be made for transfer of teachers within districts, involving either promotion or demotion, without loss of status.

11. A detailed resignation provision should be included.


THE problem of this study was to determine the most desirable scheme of control for state-supported teacher-training programs for Negroes. Following a discussion of the historical development of state-supported teacher-training programs for Negroes an analysis was made of present plans to determine their effectiveness. Ten schemes of control for publicly-supported teacher-training programs for Negroes were prepared and submitted to a jury of ninety experts. Sixty-one jurors evaluated these schemes in terms of their desirability for an unnamed state as well as for other states providing separate education for Negroes.

Data utilized in this study were special studies dealing with the preparation of Negro teachers, reports of the United States Office of Education, constitutional and statutory laws, personal interviews, correspondence, prepared charts of plans of control, and accompanying check lists.


Nine plans of control were found for the twenty-nine institutions serving as a basis for this study. A majority of these institutions are operating under some plan of centralized control. Judged according to present practice, centralization of control tending toward the schemes designated as Plan G and Plan H in this study is desirable. Plan G is that plan of control in which all publicly-supported institutions engaged in the training of Negro teachers are controlled by a state board of education exercising jurisdiction over the public school system of the state, including the normal schools and teachers colleges, but not exercising jurisdiction over the other state institutions of higher education. Plan H is that plan of control in which all publicly-supported institutions are controlled by a single board of higher education which does not have jurisdiction over the public school system. The conclusions of survey studies support present practice in this regard. The superiority of particular plans of control is not as evident when judged according to comparisons between state educational institutions for Negroes and similar private colleges. The public educational institutions for Negroes are found generally to be in more favorable circumstances than the private institutions.

Boards of control were found to have from seven to twelve members (one of whom may be the chief school officer) who are appointed by the governor for overlapping terms of approximately six years. Members secure compensation either as a per diem or as a fixed salary. Boards are generally responsible for the institutions concerned. In only one state do Negroes serve on the board primarily responsible for the control of the state educational institution for Negroes.

The judgment of experts in Negro education warrant the conclusions that:

1. Schemes for the control of publicly-supported teacher-training institutions for Negroes should directly provide for representation of the Negro race—types of schemes which are mainly general but, in addition, include some formal arrangement whereby representation of the Negro group is obtained.

2. The tendency toward centralization of control in public higher education generally should include Negro higher education.

3. Except for the provision for race restriction, boards controlling publicly-supported teacher-training institutions for Negroes, in their work and organization, should be governed by generally accepted principles of educational administration.

4. General state educational officials sharing in the control of state educational institutions for Negroes should be chosen from both Negro and white groups.

1 By CECIL WINFIELD SCOTT, Ph.D. Teachers College, Columbia University, Contributions to Education, No. 613.

2 By FELTON G. CLARK, Ph.D. Teachers College, Columbia University, Contributions to Education, No, 605.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 36 Number 4, 1935, p. 322-323
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 7404, Date Accessed: 1/18/2022 7:57:21 AM

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