Senate panel OKs eliminating teacher tenure

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

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Matthew Burns
RALEIGH, N.C. — 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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