The movement to reform teacher tenure has taken hold in many states, including New Jersey and Colorado. But in North Carolina, one lawmaker isn't so keen on reforming existing policies.
Instead, Senate leader Phil Berger, (R) Rockingham County, wants to get rid of tenure altogether.
"The current system," he writes on his website, "rewards mediocrity and punishes excellence by granting unlimited job security to all who teach a few years."
He tried to end tenure in 2012 as part of the Excellent Public Schools Act, but the provision was not approved. This year, he's hoping the decision will be different.
At a news conference, Berger said, "This is a different General Assembly, and the problem still exists. We've known for years that the one thing that does the most for improving student performance is to have a high-quality teacher in the classroom."
The bill proposes that job performance be the key factor in the decision on whether to renew a teacher's contract or not. Local school boards will be empowered to offer effective teachers, who have three years or more of experience, with a four-year contract.
Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, school boards can decide whether to offer teachers a one, two, three or four-year contract. All teachers with less than three years of experience will be given a one-year contract. School boards will also have the ability to decline to renew a contract.
This new bill is not getting a great response from everyone.
The Associated Press reports that "Democrats jumped on Berger’s new legislation, saying it would devastate a teaching field that has received one small raise in the past four years."
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, (D) Buncombe County, said, according to the Associated Press, that "communities across this state are already struggling to recruit and retain quality teachers and now Republicans in Raleigh are making that task even tougher. Good teachers need to be respected as professionals, not threatened and intimidated, if we really want to improve our classrooms."
Currently, teachers in North Carolina can get tenure after four years on the job. This is actually a greater length of time than most states. Many grant tenure after two or three years, and Mississippi, for example, allows for tenure after only one year of teaching.
There are pros and cons to tenure. Proponents like it because it protects teachers’ rights and the ability to fire a teacher without just cause. Unions often point out that without tenure, school districts could easily fire veteran teachers—who cost more—in order to hire first-year teachers who would work for less pay.
Opponents, such as Berger, feel the policy keeps ineffective teachers in their jobs and does not incentivize all veteran teachers to work their hardest. They argue that this policy makes it nearly impossible to fire a bad teacher and that often times, educators are granted tenure before they prove that they're a strong teacher.
Instead of getting rid of the policy altogether, education leaders such as Dan Weisberg, an executive vice president at TNTP, feel reform is the answer.
"There must be a balance," Weisberg told TakePart. "There must be some way to provide protection against principals or district officials firing a teacher for reasons not related to performance. But when the due process that prevents teachers for being arbitrarily fired becomes so burdensome that it becomes a deterrent in taking action with respect to teachers doing a really poor job in the classroom and dragging kids back academically—that is a problem."
Former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee is also in favor of tenure reform. She told TakePart, "Whatever changes states make to their tenure system, and fortunately many are revisiting the issue, we should move to systems in which every effort is made to retain teachers who have done a great job in the classroom. States also should ensure that teachers who are able to earn tenure do so only after proving that they are effective."
Jenny Inglee is a Los Angeles-based journalist and the Education Editor at TakePart. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com