RALEIGH — North Carolina legislators want to scrap a law that prevents ineffective teachers from being removed from the classroom. But teachers have been fighting the move, saying they need protection from malicious schoolhouse politics.
A proposed state budget that gained Senate approval early Saturday would give raises averaging 11 percent to veteran teachers who give up tenure. Most of the $468 million needed to cover raises if all 57,000 tenured teachers took the deal would come from cutting other parts of the state’s public school budget.
North Carolina lawmakers voted last year to phase out tenure for teachers who have earned it by 2018. That bid was blocked by a Superior Court judge who ruled teachers couldn’t lose a right they’d earned.
So Senate leaders shifted to dangling a big raise next year to teachers who give up tenure voluntarily, a move other states haven’t tried, said Kathy Christie of the Denver-based Education Commission of the States.
“I don’t know of any other state that is broadly (offering) the raise based on whether they give up tenure,” said Christie, who tracks state education policies for the nonpartisan group funded by state governments.
Half the states set a minimum teaching salary or pay schedule, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington, D.C. education reform group.
For more than 40 years, North Carolina law has said veteran teachers cannot be fired or demoted except for listed reasons that include poor performance, insubordination and immorality. Teachers earning career status after at least four years in a school district also can challenge their firing at a hearing and later in court.
Only Florida has succeeded in eliminating teacher tenure protections, according to the Education Commission of the States. Kansas lawmakers this spring stripped teachers of their tenure rights beginning this summer — though tenure can still be negotiated by local school districts. Idaho and South Dakota lawmakers tried to eliminate teacher protections but were reversed by voters in 2012 referendums.
Critics say teachers too often get tenure simply by continuing to show up for work and that bad teachers can be too expensive to fire.
The latest statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, dating to the 2011-12 school year, show less than 1 percent of teachers dismissed both in North Carolina and across the country lost their jobs for poor performance, although the numbers vary widely by school district. The percentage of tenured teachers forced out for poor performance is much lower in North Carolina than nationwide, the survey by a division of the U.S. Department of Education found.
North Carolina is one of 29 states that specify that tenured teachers can be dismissed because they’re ineffective in the classroom, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. But the state also is one of 38 where teachers have multiple opportunities to appeal their dismissal, the group said.
“In most states, those rights have made it very difficult to terminate a teacher,” said Sandi Jacobs, a council vice president who oversees state policies effecting educators.
At least one North Carolina court case supports arguments both that firing teachers can take years and that appeals are necessary to prevent good teachers from being railroaded.
The state Court of Appeals in December ruled that the Perquimans County school board fired teacher Vanessa Joyner in 2012 without clear cause. Joyner had earlier reported a school board member’s wife, who taught at the same school, for mistakes in administering a writing test, judges wrote in their ruling. Though the school district’s superintendent and her building’s principal recommended Joyner, the school board member described never-specified concerns about how she did her job, judges said. Claims that Joyner performed poorly were “essentially unsupported, undocumented hearsay presented by one biased member” of the school board, judges said.
Michael Albert, an English teacher at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, said he feels pretty confident as the school’s current teacher of the year about his job security. So Albert said he may give up his tenure protection, take a pay raise next year and look for a higher-paying job in another state like Indiana, where he estimates he could be paid about $11,000 a year more.
The job protections are important because with five different principals in his nine years at the school and a new principal coming next year, Albert said he’s not confident that his classroom performance can be fairly evaluated, meaning his job could be at risk in the future.
“I don’t have faith in the system they have in place for evaluating teacher effectiveness,” Albert said.
He cites low pay as the reason an ineffective teachers may linger in classrooms.
“We don’t get rid of them because we don’t have good teachers to take their place,” he said.
Science teacher Deanna Jones is ready to walk away from the tenure rights earned after 13 years in education. Private-sector jobs don’t have tenure protections and good teachers don’t need them, she said.
“I’ve always had excellent reviews and excellent evaluations and so I’ve not had to worry about losing my job I guess, knock on wood,” said Jones, who works at Mount Pleasant Middle School, about 30 miles east of Charlotte. “If you do your job and you don’t get into trouble like with the law or anything like that, you don’t have to worry about having tenure to back you up because you’re not going to get fired.”