Commentary

Teacher “tenure” proposal is misleading

CommentaryFebruary 1, 2014 

  • What does the research say?

    “Listening to Those on the Front Lines: North Carolina Teachers and Administrators Respond to State Legislative Changes” is a survey of 600 practicing teachers and administrators released by UNC-Wilmington in December 2013. Find it on the web at http://people.uncw.edu/smithrw/documents/SmithImigReport.pdf.

    The 2010 teacher performance pay study issued by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development, along with the RAND Corporation, can be found online at http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2010/09/teacher-performance-pay/.

The new “25 percent contract” law that is currently being implemented in our school districts has been the subject of much discussion, debate, and confusion among teachers and community members. Not only do most of my friends express concern and a bit of disbelief about the stipulations of this law, but also a fair number of my colleagues across the state are quite puzzled about exactly what the new contracts entail and how, or even if, their provisions will be enacted.

It is misleading to refer to a teacher’s due process rights —the ones we are being asked to relinquish with these new contracts— as “tenure.” Despite misinformation to the contrary, public school teachers have no such thing approaching tenure as it is known in the university system. Our due process rights simply entail the right to have a hearing if we are fired for cause. Principals already have it well within their power to dismiss teachers who are incompetent, and do so, based on an accumulation of multiple negative observations and performance reviews.

The proposal aims to provide $500 a year over four years to the top 25 percent of teachers in each district in exchange for those teachers signing away their due process rights. The proponents of this law, scarce outside of Jones Street, claim that the new contract legislation will improve the quality of teaching and learning, raise teacher morale, and help retain our most effective teachers. I profoundly disagree.

It is insulting for our legislators to intimate that the fundamental problem facing schools today is that teachers simply aren’t putting forth enough effort and that a modest financial carrot will motivate us somehow to teach “harder.” A 2010 study by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University and the RAND Corporation found that teacher performance pay alone does not raise student test scores. These plans fail because they both fundamentally misjudge our motivations for working hard and because they discourage teachers from sharing best classroom practices with our colleagues.

The surface problem with this legislation is straightforward: Only the first year of these contracts is funded by the state. Local districts worry that the state will pass along the financial responsibility for the contracts and bonuses — the remaining $1,500 — to them, further dipping into the districts per pupil expenditures, which threatens your children’s access to resources.

Fostering competition

The fundamental problem with this legislation is that it challenges the bedrock of the democratic institution of public schools. By offering the contracts and bonuses to only 25 percent of us, the law encourages teachers to keep best practices to themselves and discourages collaboration among colleagues. It is this collaboration and sharing of best practices that has the greatest positive effect on the greatest number of students. Collaboration among teachers is beneficial to all of our students as it exposes them to the most effective and engaging teaching and learning ideas available in the entire school.

The lasting problem with this legislation is the message it sends: North Carolina does not respect the teaching profession. A study of North Carolina teachers recently released by UNC-Wilmington reveals that over 97 percent of teachers think these legislative changes have had a negative impact on teacher morale, 74 percent indicated they are now less likely to continue working in North Carolina, and 96 percent think public education in North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction.

Legislators and community members should begin asking themselves who would want to teach in North Carolina? Would you?

Take action

I encourage all teachers in North Carolina to opt in to the new system and then reject the new contracts so that we might have the opportunity to refuse this harmful bribe. When vast numbers of us publicly and proudly say no! to these contracts, we send a powerful message to our leaders that they are failing the children of our state.

Supporters of public education are by far the most powerful voices for change.

Contact your state legislators. Request an in-person meeting. Remind our leaders that their attempts to demonize and drive away teachers are wholly unacceptable and that playing politics with the future of our community and our state will not be tolerated.

I come to work each day for the same reasons so many of my colleagues do: I relish the opportunity to serve and challenge and learn alongside students who never fail to keep me honest, on my toes, and entertained. For 13 years, I have had students share an interest in teaching and ask about my experiences; I have always gladly shared positive anecdotes. In the last year, however, I’ve struggled to answer these questions. What should I tell my students who ask, “Should I be a teacher after college?” My current answer: silence.

Lee Quinn teaches history and world religions courses at Broughton High School in Raleigh. Contact him via email at lquinn@wcpss.net.

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