A review and analysis of academic freedom and public school teacher tenure
Hightower, Tammy Jeanean
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Academic freedom as a concept has developed over centuries and continues to evolve in the court system. Public school teachers, while they have protections under Fair Dismissal laws in most states, must navigate how these laws apply in questions of academic freedom. At issue in this study are the questions of the legal history of academic freedom, the current status of the law regarding academic freedom, and how the No Child Left Behind Act might affect the academic freedom of public school teachers. The case Pickering v. Board of Education of Township High School District 205 (1968) established a two part test used by the courts to determine if the speech of a state employee is a matter of public concern and balancing this concern against the legitimate interest of the state to provide a service to the public. Connick v. Myers (1983) further defined the standard of matter of public concern discussing the context, content, and form of the educator’s speech. The current status of the law indicates that the Supreme Court has restrained from creating a set standard in decision regarding academic freedom in public schools, and the district courts have been divided in how they treat the issue. It is a complicated issue with many variations between cases making it difficult for educators to have a clear understanding of the legal standing of academic freedom. Another complication has been the addition of the No Child Left Behind Act. The No Child Left Behind Act details that the programs and practices used in the classroom are to be based on scientific research methods consisting of randomized trials in settings resembling those of the educator. Restrictions on the programs and practices used in the classroom may lead to questions of academic freedom as teachers address the needs of their students. Academic freedom continues to change and develop as educators meet new and different challenges.