Senate, House leaders differ on teacher tenure

jfrank@newsobserver.com lbonner@newsobserver.comApril 10, 2013 

  • What else the bill does

    Other provisions of the House education bill:

    • Mandates teachers take continuing education credits related to digital learning and innovation. • Outlines school improvement plans. • Grants students credit for out-of-school experiences. • Requires that school officials who administer medical care are properly trained.

— A major fissure opened Wednesday between House and Senate leaders on how to grade schools and evaluate the state’s 93,000 teachers.

A Senate committee endorsed a bill championed by Senate leader Phil Berger that would eliminate teacher tenure in 2018.

But hours later, a bipartisan House coalition, acting with the support of House Speaker Thom Tillis, introduced legislation to maintain tenure and establish a task force to consider a wide variety of teacher pay models.

“Obviously, we have a different plan,” said state Rep. Bryan Holloway, a leading Republican. “We have to collaborate. We are just moving forward with our ideas today, and that collaboration will take place at the appropriate time.”

The split threatens major components of Berger’s two-year effort to revamp the state’s education system. The Senate president pro tem expressed hope for finding common ground but also defended his approach.

“I think what we have put in the Senate bill are things that need to be addressed in K-12 education,” he said. “I think dragging our feet on some of these issues is something that is not productive in terms of improving our public schools.”

The standoff benefits the state teachers association, which says the current system is working. But if changes are made, the group leans toward the House plan.

“Clearly this is much better than what was put out in the Senate,” said Mark Jewell, the N.C. Association of Educators vice president.

The biggest differences between the two proposals focus on teacher tenure and how to grade schools.

The Senate Education Committee approved Berger’s bill phasing out teacher tenure. The bill now goes to the Senate budget committee. Teachers who have worked three years or fewer would not be able to earn tenure. Experienced teachers who are among the top performers would be offered four-year contracts under the measure. Those teachers would receive $500 raises each year of the contract. Tenure would be eliminated by July 2018.

Opponents objected to eliminating tenure for teachers who already have it.

Jackie Cole, a member of the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education who described herself as a lifelong Republican, asked that teachers with tenure be allowed to keep it. School districts are worried about a flood of lawsuits from teachers whose tenure is taken away.

“It has been shared with us that a lawsuit is likely to be filed against the state, a local school board, or both,” she said. The district can still get rid of poor teachers if experienced teachers are allowed to keep their tenure, she said.

The House bill allows teachers to receive tenure after working four years if they meet three criteria: a rating of “accomplished” or higher under the current evaluation system for the past two years, 20 percent improvement in student performance each year, and a rating of “highly effective” by the end of the fourth year.

The status gives teachers protections from being let go at the end of the school year but still allows for dismissal if they fail to meet expectations. The measure also allows current teachers with tenure to retain their status.

To revoke tenure, a school must show the teacher rated below “proficient” and “effective” for two consecutive years. The teacher would then serve a two-year waiting period before the status is restored.

The bill is co-sponsored by two leading Republicans and two top Democrats, including House Minority Leader Larry Hall. House lawmakers modeled their effort on a law approved last year in Colorado.

“You earn it first, then as long as you continue to perform and get good evaluations, you keep your career status,” said Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat and primary sponsor. “That is the good thing about (tenure). It provides the protection for people who are doing their job. ... We want to incent them to stay in the profession.”

The House and Senate measures also differ in how schools should be evaluated. Berger wants schools graded A to F based on their test scores. Teachers, state education administrators and others say that measure is too strict and want the grades to take into account year-by-year student progress.

Other ways of grading

Schools and local school board members are worried about low grades putting a cloud over economic development or growth of neighborhoods.

Berger would have student growth noted separately from the main grade, while the House bill would allow schools to get extra credit for student growth. Schools that improve student performance year to year would be graded higher.

“A more accurate delivery of information to the public would have those scores separated,” Berger said.

Mark Edwards, National Superintendent of the Year, asked to work with Berger to refine the Senate bill. Edwards, who works in Mooresville, said including student growth in a school’s grade is essential.

“We have the opportunity to fine-tune this to make it work for all schools and all communities,” Edwards said.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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