Senate panel OKs eliminating teacher tenure

Posted April 10, 2013

— Tenure would be eliminated for North Carolina public school teachers in five years, under legislation approved Wednesday by the Senate Education Committee.

Senate Bill 361 has the backing of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and is expected to win approval in the full Senate, but it could run into difficulty in the House, which is already looking at modifying some of the reforms Berger's bill includes.

Under the Senate bill, during the next five years, local school superintendents and school boards would evaluate all teachers with at least three years of experience and offer four-year contracts to the top 25 percent. All other teachers would serve on one-year contracts.

Teachers who earn the extended contracts also would be rewarded with annual supplements of at least $500.

Starting with the 2018-19 school year, districts could offer contracts of up to four years for teachers with at least three years of experience. Newer teachers would have annual contracts.

Once a contract is up, teachers who aren't offered new contracts would have limited ability to appeal the decision. They could request a hearing with the school board, but the board would have the discretion of whether to hold a hearing or not.

Delaying the elimination of tenure until June 2018 "would give the systems and the teachers the opportunity and the ability to deal with the changes," said Berger, R-Rockingham.

"People believe that tenure, or career status, acts as an impediment, rather than an enhancement, to ensuring that we have high-quality teachers in front of our kids," he said.

The proposal drew sharp criticism from Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, who said the General Assembly passed legislation two years ago that gave local superintendents the necessary tools to remove ineffective teachers from their classrooms.

"We have done nothing to require administrators in our school systems to actually use the (2011) law," Ellis said, adding that Berger's proposal doesn't protect the legal rights of veteran teachers whose contracts are renewed.

"This proposed legislation fails to grandfather teachers who currently have career status, a property right we are confident will be protected by our courts," he said. "The NCAE does not believe teachers have the right to a job for life if they have career status, but they do deserve the right to defend their performance."

Senate Education Committee Chairman Jerry Tillman, who sponsored the 2011 legislation, said he regrets that school districts didn't implement its provisions. "Had that happened, folks, we may not be needing the legislation we now have," he said.

Jackie Cole, a member of the Alamance-Burlington School System Board of Education and the North Carolina School Boards Association, also panned the tenure proposal, saying it likely would result in lawsuits and low faculty morale.

"Elimination of career status has the significant risk of continuing to demoralize the very professionals we want to be excited about the coming year and coming to school every day to educate and nurture our students," Cole said.

Lawmakers were more concerned with Berger's plan to assign an A through F grade to schools to reflect student performance than with the elimination of teacher tenure.

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, said 73 percent of high schools would receive a D or F under the system and said student academic growth should be incorporated into the grading system instead of the "simplistic system" of using achievement test scores.

"It's too prescriptive," Stein said of Berger's plan. "It does not reflect how well a school actually does at improving how kids perform in that year."

Another bill already is winding its way through the House that would use a composite of student test scores in various subjects, as well as graduation rates and other measures, and compare those composites with the statewide mean to determine the letter grade.

Berger said his plan uses the same system the Department of Public Instruction uses to determine "School of Excellence" and "School of Distinction" honors but makes the differences easier to understand by the general public. Mingling student growth in with that, he said, could allow a school where students aren't passing end-of-course tests to have an artificially high grade.

"I think it's a more accurate and transparent way to convey to parents and to the public how well our schools are performing," he said.

Berger's legislation also would allow merit pay for teachers, but he said the rules for calculating that are still be developed. School districts are expected to provide feedback by next week.

Other provisions of the bill include:

  • Allowing state employees to volunteer for school literacy programs for up to five hours per month.
  • Requiring all end-of-year tests, other than Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, to be administered during the last 10 days of the school year or the final five days of a semester-long course. 
  • Adding teacher licensing requirements and professional development opportunities dealing with teaching reading skills.

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  • Plenty Coups Apr 11, 2013

    "Excellent comment. My nephew was going into education but I talked him out of it. It's too demoralizing these days. There is precious little respect for the profession. He's captaining a ship instead. He receives better pay and a great deal of respect."

    Darn right. There is zero reason to be a teacher in NC today with the lack of respect the right throws their way.

  • Justathought12 Apr 11, 2013

    Enough is Enough! All you will create from this is poor teachers because our best teachers won't be able to afford to stay teaching. All it takes is one personaility clash to get rid of a teacher. Believe me there are some principals sitting behind desk that should have been let go a long time ago.
    Its time to get real with this problem. Parents need to raise their children so they are ready to learn. Maybe just maybe if we made parents accountable for their children and behaviors the teachers could do more. Every teacher in this state needs to call in sick tomorrow and say enough is enough!

  • Homesteader79 Apr 11, 2013

    North Carolina already has many strikes against it- with the big one being teacher pay- when it comes to attracting teacher talent. This just gives new teachers another reason not to teach here.

  • derftime2 Apr 11, 2013

    In America we have the kind of government we deserve-while some may look at this as leadership I think there is something to be said about perple like Berger pandering to a small minority that think they know what they are talking about. In reality the issue about good educators goes back to administrators and what they are willing to accept. Tenure is not a bad thing if you want to keep good teachers-it is a terrible thing if you are keeping bad ones.

  • Plenty Coups Apr 11, 2013

    "Wonder what the superintendents of the school systems think of this? Asking principals, or anybody, to pick the top 25% of faculty is absurd.'

    Don't worry folks. Those top 25% of teachers will get massively rewarded. $500 per year. That's right, that is exactly what Berger is proposing. What an insult!

  • Smilester Apr 11, 2013

    Tenure in NC is very different from tenure in union states. All tenure means in NC is that you have the right to present your case for staying employed. This bill will set back education in this state in a big way. For those too busy talking about how broken our educational system is I would like to point out that NC has been steadily improving graduation rates and test results over the last 15 years despite being 48th in teacher pay. The PLT groups teachers currently have encourages them to share their best practices with other teachers. Once you tie this system to money where you have 25% of your faculty fighting for the limited stability of a 4 year contract as opposed to a 1 year deal that cooperation is gone. What is the incentive to make your fellow teachers better when it can cost you job security. Notice I didn't mention merit pay because $500 isn't enough to offset the cost of the insurance hike. What is the incentive for bright young teachers to move into NC to teach now?

  • kibubbleski Apr 10, 2013

    Since 75% of teachers will always be labeled "ineffective," what's the incentive to do well? No matter how hard they work, how much growth is made, or how high graduation rates soar (they were the highest in NC history this past year), 75% of teachers will FAIL according to this. Hmm...sounds incredibly inspiring!

  • Terkel Apr 10, 2013

    I'm incredulous at the number of people still insisting that it's somehow different and unfair for teachers to work under the same threat of termination that the rest of us do.

    The "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" attitude of the teachers ("tenure doesn't mean you can't get fired") is shameful. If that's all it is, why the wailing and gnashing of teeth? The only answer that comes to mind is that tenure does in fact make it extremely difficult to fire a bad teacher. And we all know just how much extra effort any govt emp goes to, unless they're publicly humiliated or unless you have lots of money and power.

  • Kaitlyn Apr 10, 2013

    In the current system I think the vast majority of low performing teachers are not going to have their annual contract renewed long before they get tenure anyway. Teacher turnover is high in the first few years, so there is already a self-selection process in place to weed out those who are not cut out for teaching.

    Sure there may be a few bad apples who managed to get tenure, but the overwhelming majority of tenured teachers got to that point because they are good at their job and enjoy what they are doing. Eliminating tenure for everyone just to weed out a few low performers is a classic example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

  • ussstink Apr 10, 2013

    Wonder what the superintendents of the school systems think of this?
    Asking principals, or anybody, to pick the top 25% of faculty is absurd. Pretty sure the teacher that brings the doughnuts will be in that group.