RALEIGH — Public school teachers and administrators are gearing up to fight a new North Carolina law that eliminates job protections and shifts toward paying teachers based on job performance.
Teachers are signing petitions, planning a walk-out and preparing legal action to fight a law passed in July that directs school districts to offer their top teachers a chance to sign four-year contracts in exchange for pay raises totaling $5,000 while gradually eliminating tenure.
The effort to pay teachers based on merit and classroom accomplishment won’t work the way it may in sales or manufacturing, Brunswick County Schools Superintendent Edward Pruden said Monday. Having to compete for limited raises and contracts could cause teachers to undermine one another, rather than cooperate, he said.
“How do you account for a teacher having a classroom of advanced or gifted students and another teacher having a classroom of students with learning disabilities, or students who don’t speak English, or students from poverty who don’t come to school with the advantages of a middle-class child? There’s no way to slice the onion that thin and separate teachers by their performance,” he said.
By 2018, all teachers will work under one-, two- or four-year contracts that replace tenure rights requiring school administrators to follow a defined process when firing a teacher.
Critics of tenure in the Republican-led General Assembly approved the change because they said rules make it difficult to get rid of ineffective teachers once they qualify for the protections after four years of teaching.
Pruden said it’s impossible to objectively distinguish teachers between the best and the rest. That could set up public schools for lawsuits by teachers left out of the money, he said.
“The problem is that we have 800 teachers in Brunswick County and 132 of those would qualify for the bonus and we have no objective, rational, fair way to rank-order 800 teachers in order of effectiveness,” he said. “In other words, I have no rational way to explain to the 133rd teacher why she didn’t make it and the 132nd did.”
In neighboring New Hanover County, teachers at Murray Middle School signed a petition opposing the individual evaluations for the post-tenure raises and asked that their school not receive any money to pay them. A school district spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment Monday.
Some teachers angry about the lack of a broad pay raise, loss of tenure and more difficult working conditions are using social media to anonymously organize a statewide teacher walk-out on Nov. 4. The North Carolina Association of Educators, which represents teachers but is not a union, said it is neither organizing nor endorsing the walk-out. State law bans strikes or work stoppages by public employees.
State Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, noted that the Obama Administration has pushed states to develop teacher evaluation systems with teeth, merit pay for teachers, and holding teachers and schools more accountable for how much students learn.
“Refusing to reward the best teachers and make low performers improve is a classic example of what is wrong with the education bureaucracy,” Berger said in a statement. “Parents know which teachers they want their children to have at school. So it is difficult to understand how administrators can name their very best teacher, but cannot identify the top 25 percent. It is even more ludicrous that these administrators can paint a permanent pay raise for top performing teachers as a bad thing.”
Berger’s office also pointed to a new study by researchers from Stanford and the University of Virginia into performance incentives work introduced in the Washington, D.C., schools in 2009-10.
“The evidence available to date has been mixed at best” as to whether performance pay works, Profs. Thomas Dee and James Wykoff wrote. But the researchers said poorly performing teachers left Washington classrooms in greater numbers under threat of dismissal, while teachers who stayed showed improved performance.
The NCAE is planning to file a lawsuit in the coming months to challenge the elimination of teacher tenure, said Ann McColl, the organization’s top lawyer. The lawsuit is likely to argue that the state would be violating the contractual rights of teachers who have either enjoyed the job protections or were on their way to earning them, she said. Many teachers saw tenure as balancing low pay, she said.
“That’s kind of the understanding that a lot of people had when they got the tenure,” McColl said. “You’re not paying me more, you’re not giving me the resources I need in my classroom, and now you’re going to take away a contractual right.”