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Tenure is not the Problem with our Educational System

Strategies for Saving Our Failing Schools
Les Stein

In Vergara v. California, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu argued that the state's tenure laws effectively work against minority students. He said that tenure creates an unfair system resulting in a disproportionate number of inexperienced teachers populating underperforming schools, particularly in low income neighborhoods. His findings, supported by research, show that teachers with tenure and seniority - those with many years of experience -often choose to teach in less challenging schools.

Judge Treu's decision will certainly be challenged, especially by the national teachers unions. In the meantime, however, we need to keep in mind that California's tenure system has little or nothing in common with that of North Carolina. For one thing we do not have a "real" teachers union in North Carolina. The North Carolina Association for Educators serves as a voice for teachers but it does not have collective bargaining authority. In other words, the organization advocates for teachers without the legal authority of organizations such as the National Education Association or the National Federation of Teachers. Technically, our state's teacher tenure policy is a tiger without teeth.

In light of the information above, the General Assembly's decision to first eliminate tenure altogether, followed by the more recent proposal to offer pay raises only to teachers who turn down tenure, not only highlights disrespect toward teachers but a wanton disregard for fair employment practices as well. The legislators argue that tenure keeps the poor teachers in the classrooms and that tenure policies prevent low performing teachers from being fired. Not only is this hogwash, it shows that our state politicians are simply out of touch with their educational system.

The only reason some of our schools tolerate bad teachers is because their principals don't have the backbone to get rid of them; or, they don't want to be inconvenienced with finding and hiring replacements. Our tenure laws simply offer teachers due process. If a principal truly feels that a teacher is not doing her or his job all they need to do is document the problem, talk to the teacher, give her/him a warning, and follow up with an action plan. If the concern is properly documented, it will take less than two months to remove an ineffective teacher from her/his classroom. Tenure in North Carolina, unlike California and New York, simply highlights fair labor practices. Can we get rid of our state legislators without cause?

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