How Tenure For Teachers Works In North Carolina
1:00 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

How Tenure For Teachers Works In North Carolina

Getting rid of tenure for teachers has been a rallying call for education reform efforts across the country. It's a key part of an education bill that Republicans in the North Carolina Senate are pushing.

For some, the idea of tenure brings to mind images of teachers who can't teach, but are immune from firing. But that's not how tenure works here. In North Carolina, it surely takes longer to fire a tenured teacher, but it is done at least some times.

Tenure for school teachers is not like tenure for college professors. It's a lot easier for school teachers to get tenure. If you're a teacher and the district decides to keep you after four years, you've earned tenure. It's also easier to fire tenured school teachers than it is tenured professors.

"I think that there is this misperception out there that a teacher can just mail it in after they get it, that it's somehow been linked to the college professor we all had who had tenure and could just teach whatever he wanted," says Brian Lewis with the North Carolina Association of Educators,

"Tenure in North Carolina simply means due process. It just means you have to give the teacher the reason why and the teacher has the right to rebut your reasons," says Lewis.

That's true, but it's also true that not many teachers actually get fired. Last year, districts across the state dismissed a total of 28 tenured and non-tenured teachers. That doesn't include 255 new teachers whose contracts weren't renewed. Leanne Winner with the North Carolina School Boards Association says it also doesn't include 165 teachers who were encouraged to leave.

"Most of the time the teacher would end up resigning and so that process itself from beginning to end was not used a great deal, but it was still taking a great deal of time to get that documentation in place," says Winner.

That documentation is what's needed as evidence that a tenured teacher isn't cutting it in the classroom. Principals establish that through evaluations. These include a series of classroom observations. Usually, a principal tells a teacher how to improve and, then, gives the teacher time to see if that works. Winner says she heard from school districts the process can take two years. She says that's too long.

Last year, groups representing teachers, school boards and school administrators got together to work on legislation that would streamline the process.

"Because this legislation has passed we have shortened the time period significantly to where we can go through the process in about six months," says Winner.

Still the school boards association would like to do away with tenure for new teachers. Winner says if teachers are doing a good job, they shouldn't worry and she points out that very few people in North Carolina have this added job protection, including other school employees.

But that's cold comfort for some teachers. Bob Joyce is a professor at UNC Chapel Hill's School of Government. He says tenure for teachers is similar to the job protections that some government employees have.

"It is based on the same kind of thinking that teachers are subject to various kinds of pressures on them other than simply their performance in the classroom and that their employers are elected boards of education. They can change their political notions just as a city council or county commission can," says Joyce.

The North Carolina Association of Educators says even with tenure, teachers worry that speaking out in front of school boards will jeopardize their jobs. Some who support tenure also see it has a recruitment tool. They argue that added job security is one way to attract teachers to a profession that doesn't pay much.

Getting rid of tenure is a part of what Republicans in the Senate call a major education reform bill. Instead of tenure, the most protection a teacher could get is a four-year contract.

Larry Price with the North Carolina Association of School Administrators doesn't think that's a bad idea, but he still wonders why tenure has become such a target for education reform.

"For a conclusion to be drawn that teachers having tenure is one of the root causes of teachers not performing as well as they could is a bit of a stretch," says Price.

If tenure disappears, Price doesn't expect districts will see many more firings or resignations than they do now. After all, districts would have to recruit more teachers to fill their places. That's hard enough as is.

Tags: