December 9, 2014

Here’s an amazing fact about teacher tenure from The New Teacher Project, a business and education group seeking education solutions. Taxpayers spend $250 million on raises for teachers their school district has already identified are ineffective teachers.

Another fact. Their study reports over half the best teachers earn less than the average ineffective teacher in their district.

It’s the fault of the teacher tenure system that makes it difficult to fire ineffective teachers -Recently, relying on path breaking research from Harvard and Columbia Universities, a California judge struck down the California teacher tenure law,ruling it hurts poor and minority students.

Bloomberg News/Businessweek explained ”In a landmark ruling, a Los Angeles superior court judge on Tuesday struck down key elements of California’s teacher tenure statutes after finding that the near inability to fire ineffective teachers disproportionately hurts poor and minority students. The ruling rests in large part on what Judge Rolf Treu called ”compelling” academic research that “shocks the conscience.” Highly ineffective teachers, the evidence suggests, can cause lasting harm that reaches far into a student’s future. ”Based on a massive study, Dr. [Raj] Chetty testified that a single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom,” Judge Treu wrote in his 16-page decision (pdf).
Bloomberg added ”That 2012 study, by Harvard’s Raj Chetty and John Friedman and Columbia’s Jonah Rockoff, analyzed data from 2.5 million kids over two decades, matching test scores with the tax data for the same students and their parents. They tried to isolate how much any individual teacher adds or detracts by comparing how the students scored on end-of-year tests to how similar students did with other teachers, controlling for a host of such things as test scores in the prior year, gender, suspensions, English language knowledge, and class size.”

California officials admitted over 8000 ineffective teachers are in their schools. “The judge combined those academic findings with those of the state’s own expert, who testified that as many as 3 percent of California teachers—8,250 in all—are “grossly ineffective.” Taken together, the judge found that “the number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students now and well into the future.”

In North Carolina, teachers get tenure after four years. Fewer than one percent of tenured teachers lose their jobs because of poor performance.

There is little evidence school administrators use the four years before tenure to get bad teachers out of the system. The Brookings Institution found nearly half of the lowest performing quarter of teachers are still in the system after five years, not significantly different than the 54% of high performers still teachers in North Carolina schools after five years.

The Reform Majority in the State Senate passed a dramatic teacher pay increase to give teachers an 11% raise, over $5000,if they choose to give up tenure and be treated like other professionals instead of UAW style, more for less union members. Under the reform for results plan, average teacher salaries would exceed $51,000,lifting North Carolina from 47th in America to 27th.

The Conservative Reformers hoped large raises would retain good teachers and tenure change would protect students from ineffective teachers. Unfortunately, fierce pressure against tenure reform from the NCAE teacher union gave the House and the Governor cold feet. The final package included an average $3300 raise, $4000 starting teacher pay increase but no tenure reform.

Commenting on North Carolina’s reform battle, The New Teacher Project said ”The state is poised for positive change. Recently, state legislators announced several controversial policy changes, including the elimination of teacher tenure, doing away with the standard pay bump for master’s degrees and relaxing statewide limits on class size. These measures are undoubtedly making teachers nervous—but they have the potential to push the state toward a teaching profession that truly celebrates and prioritizes quality instruction. By breaking down several barriers that have traditionally limited innovations with school staffing and structures, North Carolina could create the teaching profession of the future—one that rewards great results in the classroom, gives teachers a chance to enrich their careers by expanding their influence and leadership over time, and values their contributions to students and community versus credits earned and seat time.

But North Carolina will only succeed at moving the profession forward if these policy changes are accompanied by higher starting salaries across the board and better pay for high-performing teachers. Legislators and school leaders have a real opportunity to use these changes to begin elevating the teaching profession in their state, but they must seize it.

With a $460 million, 11% raise and an end to the pay increase just for being alive tenure system, the Conservative Reform Majority in the State Senate shows they understand the tragedy of saddling a child with an ineffective teacher.

They need our help fighting for reform.