Beth Milne is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

In the second post of our budget briefing series, we’re taking a look at what’s making the most headlines in the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013: tenure reform.

North Carolina, like many states, has long awarded “career status” to nearly all teachers who make it past their fourth year in the classroom, and used it to protect them from an unjust fire. But since tenure was first introduced in NC, we’ve developed a host of other federal and state due process and civil rights protections to prevent unfair terminations.

What if we redesigned our contract system to create meaningful rewards for excellence in the classroom and public recognition of the incredibly positive changes a top teacher can have in his or her students’ lives?

Under current budget provisions, North Carolina educators who have worked in the classroom for more than three years and are rated “effective” or higher on the state evaluation instrument will be eligible for multi-year contracts and annual pay raises.

Ok, let’s admit—the $500 annual pay raise tied to four-year contracts is just insulting. When phasing out tenure, it’s crucial that leaders substitute it with other meaningful rewards and opportunities—which this legislature has punted to a study committee (more on that tomorrow).

But these performance-based contracts—paired with additional investments in pay and opportunity that CarolinaCAN will be pushing for over the next year – replace “tenure” with recognition and reward based on excellence that the profession has lacked for too long.  It’s the same type of “soft” recognition that has disproportionately drawn the best and brightest into professions other than teaching.

Those who lament the loss of tenure point out that it’s just another blow to the profession, alongside a lack of public recognition and salaries that have been stagnant for too many years. If tenure were a real reward, they’d be right. But when it’s given by default to everyone, and offers few real benefits beyond those already provided to every public employee, tenure is no longer a reward. Used alongside other incentives and supports for excellence, the performance-based contracts currently proposed in the state budget can be.


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