Tenuous on tenure

First Posted: 10/29/2013

There is a statewide movement for teachers to show solidarity in their fight against what happened in the most recent General Assembly, particularly the decision by Republicans to do away with tenure.

It’s hard to tell if the movement is taking root locally, but we will know more on Monday, when teachers are being asked by the North Carolina Association of Educators to stage a “walk-in” and to wear red. Initially there was conversation about teachers playing hooky that day, but someone got smart and recognized that children alone in the classrooms would be a good way to alienate the public, which generally comes down on the side of teachers in this dispute.

The Republicans in the General Assembly, confident that legislation will now get Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature, have been labeled as anti-education because of the replacement of tenure with merit pay, and the ending of bonuses for teacher with a master’s degree. Republicans counter by saying that North Carolina has trailed its peer states in public education for years, and a shakeup is needed.

The decision to strip teachers of the incentive of obtaining a master’s degree is puzzling to us; what is needed is more capable teachers, and a master’s degree can help in identifying them.

But tenure that many argue crowds are schools with marginal teachers or worse is trickier to defend.

Legislation adopted this summer directs school districts to offer their top teachers a chance to sign four-year contracts in exchange for pay raises totaling $5,000. By 2018, all teachers would work under one-, two- or four-year contracts that replace tenure, which has defined the process school administrators have to follow in terminating a teacher.

Supporters say that tenure is needed to provide security that is necessary to attract good teachers, and that any system based on merit will be inherently subjective, and easily polluted by politics and the good-old-boy-or-girl system. It’s an interesting argument given that much of what teachers do on a day-to-day basis is to award grades based on merit, some of which is dispensed subjectively.

Teacher have a lot to lose, and are digging in for what essentially will be a PR battle. Waged effectively, it could mean Republicans will lose a lot during the 2014 elections, which will come way before their education reforms begin to pay dividends — assuming, that is, that they ever will.

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