The fight over teacher “tenure” in North Carolina has arrived at the state Supreme Court, and it’s fair to predict that a Republican-dominated court will likely back a move by GOP lawmakers to end career status for public school teachers. The state Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of teachers, saying that a plan to phase out the status adopted in 2013 amounted to an illegal taking of contract and property rights.
It was a good ruling, penned by Judge Linda Stephens, who wrote that for 40 years, the career status – a more precise word than tenure for the benefit teachers have enjoyed – has “been a fundamental part of the bargain” for teachers to work in North Carolina instead of going to other states or other jobs where the pay is better.
It’s a benefit that teachers should continue to enjoy. The attack on career status from Republican legislators is simply politics and punishment. Taking the step of ending a mild and reasonable form of job projection was nothing but a reaction from legislators to criticism some teachers had of Republican cuts to public education. Some GOP lawmakers implied in the course of advocating an end to career status that lousy teachers were being protected by it.
Not true. The truth is, so-called tenure is hardly comparable to the protections university professors enjoy. All that “career status” means is that teachers with seniority can’t be fired without having a hearing and a chance to defend themselves. Administrators can still fire bad teachers for poor performance, immorality and insubordination.
The protection has been supported by administrators in the past. There’s no evidence that career status protection keeps bad teachers in place or guarantees anyone lifetime employment. Republicans simply found one more way in which to attack teachers and take a swipe at public schools in general. And, of course, North Carolina has never been a strong state when it comes to protecting workers, including nonteachers.
This is an expensive and wasteful fight for the state to wage. Legislators who support ending the career status protection doubtless are resting easier now that the issue is before a Republican-dominated court. It would be refreshing to see the court’s Republicans for once go against the ideology of their friends in the General Assembly.
As that’s not likely, perhaps teachers will carry the fight on up the legal ladder to the extent they can. They should.