Teacher Tenure Explained

Teacher tenure has been hotly debated by educators, policymakers, and citizens alike since it was established in 1937. Teacher tenure has been able to withstand intense criticism until a recent court ruling in California labeled it unconstitutional and struck it down in that state. California’s actions have inspired many other states to try and do the same, potentially ending teacher tenure all together.

Before I discuss the current developments for teacher tenure, I wanted to break down what teacher tenure is according to the United States law. Because there has been so much debate about teacher tenure throughout its history, much of the information out there has been convoluted one way or another. In order to properly discuss teacher tenure, we must first have full, mostly unbiased understanding of what it is.

In this post, I will defining tenure and breaking down the Teacher Tenure Act of 1937 as it was adopted by the state of Michigan. I will be reserving all opinionated discussion of teacher tenure for my next post.


Before I begin, I want to connect you with all of the resources I have used for this post. I tried to simplify the Teacher Tenure Act as much as possible and have purposefully left out portions that I felt were irrelevant to discussion (i.e. court procedures). If you feel something has been misrepresented or left out, I encourage you to point them out so that they me be added or fixed. Please include the article number and section within the act to which you are referring.

Tenure Definitions:  Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, Oxford Dictionaries, the Free Dictionary

Just Causes for Dismissal: This scholarly article does a wonderful job breaking down what the law considers to be just causes for dismissal.

Teacher Tenure Act of 1937: This is the electronic copy of the Teacher Tenure Act of 1937 as it was adopted by the state of Michigan. There are only a few sections which are state specific. This copy includes recent revisions made to the act.

Defining Tenure

Tenure: Indicates the holding of land or of an office/position, can also be a guarantee that the position one is holding is ‘permanent’

  •            Permanent: The word “permanent” in this case DOES NOT, despite common belief, mean the individual can hold their position until the end of time no matter what. What this means  is that the school/district have decided to offer a contract after the probationary period that continues employment indefinitely unless the school/district has ‘just cause’ for your termination or can no longer sustain the position. What is considered ‘just cause’ for dismissal is stated by law.


The Teacher Tenure Act as it has been provided below is a simplified version of the Teacher Tenure Act of 1937 as adopted by the state of Michigan. For the sake of space, information that only applies in the state of Michigan or that I deemed irrelevant to understanding how tenure works (i.e. court procedures, definitions, repetitions, etc.) were left out. If you feel an element has been misrepresented or that I left something important out, feel free to comment below with the pertaining article and sub-article numbers so that I may quickly fix the issue. To see the original version of the Teacher Tenure Act of 1937, click here or see the resource section above.

Teacher Tenure Act Definitions (Article I)

Continuing Tenure: Refers to teachers who have finished their probation period and have been offered a continuous contract with a district. This can be used interchangeably with the word “tenure”.

Controlling Board: Refers to all boards that care for, manage, and/or control a public school district and/or public educational institution.

The Teacher Tenure Act of 1937

Article II: Probationary Period

  •  Teachers remain on probation for 5 full school years (4 years after the 2011 amendment)
  • Can only serve 1 probationary period in an institution and/or district
    • After your probation period, the institution/district has to decide whether to end your contract or give you tenure
    • Though there is only one probationary period for the institution/district, you still restart your probationary period if you switch to a different institution/district.
  • If a probationary teacher scores effective or high-effective on their most recent annual year-end performance evaluation cannot be moved from their position and replaced by a teach with continuing tenure only because the other teach has continuing tenure.
    • i.e. A probationary teacher that performs well cannot be replaced by a tenured teacher just because the other teacher is tenured
  • The “Controlling Board” can dismiss a probationary teacher at any time but must inform the teacher of their dismissal in writing before the last 15 days of the school year. If this is not done, the teacher will be employed the following year
  • The controlling board is required to give the teacher a written statement at the end of each school year saying whether or not they have been effective
  •  The controlling board is required to provide an “individualized development plan” for the probationary teacher.
    • The “individualized development plan” is a series of performance goals that the probationary teacher and the appropriate administrative personnel (i.e. School Principal) agree on. \
  • Probationary teachers must receive an annual year-end performance evaluation based on classroom observations. This evaluation must include an assessment of the progress the teacher has made towards accomplishing the goals set in their individualized learning plan.
    • The controlling board decides how many classroom observations are done and the performance evaluation follows the set standards.
    • Where only this evaluation is required, schools/districts are allowed to do more throughout the year
  • A teacher cannot complete their probationary period unless they have scored effective or highly-effective in their 3 most recent year-end evaluations and have completed all 5 or 4 full school years of employment.
  • Articles 4, 5 and 6 of the Teachers’ Tenure Act do not apply to probationary teachers

Article III: Continuing Tenure

  • If a teacher completes their probation period, they are get continuing tenure status and will be continuously employed by the controlling board they have completed their probation under and can only be dismissed or demoted as specified in the act.
  • A teacher who has continuing tenure in a school district that is part of a consortium cannot transfer their tenure status to another school district within their consortium
  • When a teacher with continuing tenure in a public school takes a leave of absence, they keep their continuing tenure status
    •  Keep continuing tenure status as long as they are still considered employed by the district
  • If a teacher earns continuing tenure in elementary or secondary education, their tenure does not apply to adult education and vice versa
  • If a teacher does with continuing tenure is hired into a non-classroom position (i.e. principle), their tenure does not transfer to this position but remains as an ‘active classroom teacher’ status. This means that if the teacher loses this non-classroom position at the end of their contract and returns to the classroom, it is not considered a demotion since the tenure remained at the ‘active classroom teacher’ status.
  • Teachers who have continuing tenure in one district and become employed in a different district do not have to serve more than a 2 year probation period in the new district. The new controlling board can decide if the teacher’s continuing tenure status will transfer or if a probationary period should be served.
  • When a district consolidates, reorganizes, etc. and the teacher is transferred, their continuing tenure status is also transferred within 30 days unless the controlling board by a 2/3 vote decides to assign an individual teacher a probation period of no more than 2 years.
    • If a teacher does not have continuing tenure when they are transferred, they are not given another probation period of more than a year
  • Teachers with continuing tenure get an annual year-end performance evaluation (same as probationary teachers). If teachers get a rating of ineffective or minimally effective, they receive an individual development plan (same as probationary teachers) and must make progress towards the set goals in a given time period that is no more than 180 days.

Article IV: Discharge, Demotion or Retirement

  • A teacher on continuing tenure cannot be discharged or demoted for random or picky reasons and schools must follow the act
    • To see what the listed causes for demotion/dismissal are, click here
  • The controlling board can still determine its own retirement policies as long as it follows the retirement act and is applied equally to all teachers employed by that controlling board
  • If a teacher on continuing tenure is found guilty of violating the revised school code or commits a listed crime, it is considered to hurt that teacher’s ability to teach and is a reason for discharge or demotion of the teacher.
    • I did not include the two revised school codes here but the specific acts can be found in Article IV of the act and this person sums up the reasons for discharge/demotion very well
  • Charges against a teacher need to be written and signed by the person making the charge and should include a proposed outcome for the teacher. This written statement shall be given to the controlling board (or their designated person) and a copy will be given to the teacher.
  • Before the end of 10 days, the controlling board must decide by majority vote whether or not to pursue the charges or not. They are allowed to make changes to the original charge.
  •  If the controlling board decides to continue with the charge, they must write their decision down and provide the teacher with a copy within 5 days. The controlling board must also include a statement informing the teacher of their rights under this article.
  • The controlling board may put an accused teacher on suspension from active duty until 1 day after one of the following:
    • The teacher does not challenge the decision to proceed with the charges within the assigned time period
    • If the initial decision and order to discharge or demote the teacher is made by an administrative law judge
      • If this initial decision is to reinstate the teacher, than a final decision is ordered by the tenure commission
  • A teacher’s salary will still be given during their suspension period
  • If a teacher’s suspension is caused by a criminal charge, their salary shall be placed in an escrow account by the controlling board. If an administrative law judge reinstates the teacher, that money is released back to them for the time stated by the judge. The control board can decide whether or not to provide health and/or life insurance for the teacher during this time.
    •  If a teacher is found guilty or does not challenge the decision to proceed with the charges in time, the controlling board owns the money in the escrow account
  •  If a teacher is found guilty of an unlisted felony or misdemeanor, the controlling board can decide to discontinue that teacher’s salary starting the day of their conviction. If the felony is listed, the controlling board will discontinue that teacher’s salary on the day of their conviction
  • When the administrative law judge makes the preliminary decision to demote or discharge the teacher, the tenure commission can reverse the decision and order back pay for the teacher
  • If a teacher with continuing tenure wants to challenge the decision of the controlling board to proceed with charges against them, they must submit a claim of appeal with the tenure commission and provide a copy to the controlling board within 20 days of receiving the controlling board’s decision to proceed. The controlling board has 10 days to submit their response to the teacher’s appeal and must provide a copy of their response to the teacher.
  • If the teacher fails to submit an appeal within the specified time, the decision of the controlling board becomes final
  • The administrative law judge shall assign a court date that is more than 10 days after the date is given to the teacher/controlling board and will not be more than 45 days after the controlling board answer to the teacher’s appeal is received by the tenure commission (tenure commission could decide to allow for more than 45 days if necessary)
  • The administrative law judge must be a licensed attorney in the state and works for the department of education. This judge cannot advise the tenure commission and could not have been involved in a tenure commission review of a prior decision made by an administrative judge.
  • The hearing will be at a convenient location in the county where most if not all of the school district is located. The teacher can decide whether the hearing will be public or private
    • In Michigan, the parties can also opt to have the hearing at the tenure commission office in Lansing.
  • The judge will provide a preliminary decision accepting, reversing, or revising the charges against the teacher and will provide the decision and order in writing to the parties and tenure commission
  •  The parties can send exceptions and/or cross-exceptions that analyze the material presented in the hearing. The tenure commission cannot be given any new evidence that was not provided in the hearing.
  • The tenure commission can decide to accept, reverse, or revise the judge’s preliminary decision and order using the evidence from the hearing and the exceptions/cross-exceptions provided by the parties.
  • Teacher can appeal the final decision in the court of appeals
  • The administrative law judge and/or the tenure commission can deny an appeal, demotion or discharge if one of the parties consistently fails to follow the rules of the tenure commission or does not respond to the orders given in a timely manner.

Article V: Resignation and Leave of Absence

  • A teacher on continuing tenure must provide a written notice of resignation to the controlling board at least 60 days before September 1st of the coming school year. The teacher and controlling board must agree on the resignation.
  • The controlling board may give a teacher a leave of absence no longer than 1 year when a teacher submits a written request.
  • The controlling board may assign a leave of absence of no more than one year for a teacher without their written request due to a physical or mental disability. This leave of absence can be renewed by the controlling board
  • A teacher given an unrequested leave has a write to a hearing challenging the leave of absence
  • An unrequested leave of absence does not eliminate the teacher’s continuing tenure status if they already have it
  • In order to be reinstated after receiving an unrequested leave of absence due to a mental or physical disability, the teacher must provide evidence that they are able to perform the essential functions of their job. The controlling board must approve this form of evidence.

Article VII: State Tenure Commission

  •  Each state has a tenure commission made up of 5 members:
    • 2 classroom instructors
    • 1 Member of a board of education for a graded or city school district
    • 1 Person who is not a teacher or member of a board of education
    •  1 Superintendent of schools
  •  The superintendent of schools will be the ex officio secretary of the commission
    •  Ex officio: Has membership in a council, commission, etc. because of a different position the individual holds
  • The attorney general will assign an assistant to the commission that will give legal advice to the commission
  • The governor appoints members of the tenure commission. Each member serves a term of 5 years. If someone leaves their position before the end of their term, the governor can appoint a member immediately to fill the vacancy. This appointee will serve for whatever time is left in their predecessor’s term.
  • There can only be 1 person from a district in the commission
  • Every member appointed to the tenure commission must already be on continuing tenure and participation on the commission does not effect this status.
  • A writing that is in the possession of/attributed to the commission is available for public viewing

Article VIII: Districts

  • This act applies in all districts of the state

Article IX: Penalty

  • Controlling boards who do not follow this act are breaking the law and will be penalized the same as if they have violated general school law

Article X: Inconsistent Acts


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