Not a step forward

Dec. 11, 2013 @ 06:18 PM

North Carolina’s law that gets rid of tenure for public school teachers is a terrible change in our education system, and one  with which our school board is now grappling.

Chairwoman Heidi Carter questioned whether Durham could avoid implementing the new rules governing teacher employment by choosing not to accept state money for pay increases, an idea that the school board attorney nixed since the change is a state law.
The law will phase in a new structure. The immediate change is that 25 percent of teachers who have been in the same school system for three years will be offered four-year contracts. Teachers who are now tenured must give up that status to receive a contract if it’s offered. The selected teachers would have $500 added to their base salaries for each year of the contract. By 2018-2019, it will mean that no one will be tenured. Teachers will be able to receive a one-year, two-year or four-year contract.
There’s certainly something to be said for merit-based pay increases and evaluations that reflect employee performance. But creating a workplace environment in which supervisors are expected to pick the top 25 percent of performers -- and only the top 25 percent -- and offer them greater employment protections is toxic. It sends a disheartening message to the remaining 75 percent of employees, who may indeed be doing a good job, but whose superviser deemed that they were in perhaps the top 26 percent of performers instead of the top 25 percent.
While we would prefer that the General Assembly had not abolished tenure, we are certainly not in favor of the arbitrary nature of the system lawmakers adopted. It seems a better measure would have been to offer all educators who performed at a certain level the same deal, instead of randomly cutting it off at 25 percent.
Senate Leader Phil Berger pushed the legislation through the General Assembly earlier this year because of concerns that tenure prevented administrators from being able to deal appropriately with bad teachers. The Rockingham Republican acknowledged in an interview with the News and Observer earlier this year that most educators are doing a commendable job, and that’s it’s a “very small percentage” who do not fit into that category.
Of course there are bad teachers, just as there are lousy journalists, incompetent lawyers, ineffective lawmakers and poor employees in virtually any profession you can name. But it’s a myth that there was no way to deal with teachers who should not be in the profession – there were effective tools in place. They just required more due diligence, which is prudent.
We will be watching anxiously in the next few years as the system is fully implemented. Unfortunately, we don’t think this change will help North Carolina make educational strides.