"Tenure" is not a four-letter word. Yet, that's exactly what the most recent lawsuit challenging Minnesota's state teacher-tenure statutes suggests. The plaintiffs depict tenure as the root of all educational inequality. Their solution — abolish tenure — is as flawed as the underlying premise: that tenure prevents schools from retaining the most qualified teachers.

Significantly, as the Minnesota courts hear this challenge, so will the court of public opinion. That happened in California and New York, where similar lawsuits have emerged as part of a strategy from national interest groups to meddle in state affairs using the courts and the media. Regardless, the plaintiffs and their attorneys are sure to tap a vein of anger that many in the public have developed over misconceptions and false information regarding tenure. Accordingly, it is worth setting a few facts straight as the discussion begins. Or, put another way, what are the popular myths associated with tenure?

Myth No. 1: Tenure is lifetime employment.

Tenure is not a number of things, notwithstanding some popular conceptions. It is not a job for life. Tenured teachers are not beyond reproach. They are not immune to termination. In Minnesota, a teacher can be terminated for numerous grounds — and they have been.

But what is tenure? Tenure, in the legal jargon, is due process. That's not really helpful. What is due process? Simply put, due process affords tenured teachers the right to receive a notice that their job is in jeopardy and a hearing to present information to defend against the proposed job action.

Fundamentally, tenure is what most workers — teachers or anyone else — would expect as a matter of fairness: If you intend to terminate my employment, then tell me why and give me an opportunity to respond before you take an action that could irretrievably damage my career.

Myth No. 2: Tenure prohibits school administrators from "doing their job" of ensuring that high-quality teachers remain in the classroom.

Not at all. To begin with, school administrators have three years to evaluate and determine whether a teacher deserves tenure in the first instance. That's roughly 540 days of teaching and 3,240 instructional hours from which school administrators can scrutinize and assess a teacher before they receive due-process protections. At the end of that time, if administrators have a whiff of doubt, they do not have to retain a teacher. And they shouldn't, if they have any performance concerns.

But what about tenured teachers? Doesn't tenure create additional hurdles that make it effectively impossible to terminate a tenured teacher?

Not necessarily. Sure, tenured teachers receive a hearing. They have an opportunity to adjudicate the school district's decision in state court. Yet, if school administrators have a strong record of observations and evaluations — if they have done their job in the first instance — the chances of a challenge to their decision is reduced. Union lawyers — like most lawyers — will assess their case before they litigate it. If it is weak in the face of strong evidence, they will be disinclined to litigate it and, instead, inclined to settle or not take the case at all.

Myth No. 3: Courts need to right this perceived policy wrong called tenure.

At its core, this debate is about education policy. Some think that we should not have, as a matter of policy, due-process protections for teachers. Others believe these protections enhance the teaching profession and, in the end, benefit children. Setting aside the merits of each position, the issue is one of policy.

Importantly, courts avoid settling policy debates, as they should. That's the Legislature's job. As we know, in 2012, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill to change tenure. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed it. To now use the courts to attempt to resolve a fundamentally political question only fosters animosity among teachers, unions, parents and children.

Perhaps that is part of the strategy — to challenge tenure statutes through the courts and, in the process, advance a particular narrative about tenure in the public. Unfortunately, it won't improve teacher quality, in the final analysis. As research has demonstrated, the connection between tenure and student achievement is tangential, at best. Thus, even if the plaintiffs succeed, it may be Pyrrhic.

Mark A. Paige is an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. He researches and writes on educational policy matters and has represented school districts in education law matters.