January 29, 2015

The news story on the argument on teacher tenure before the North Carolina Court of Appeals shed light on the issue of judicial activism.

In 2013,the Legislature replaced the teacher tenure system with four year contracts and pay increases for high performing teachers. Tenure or career status makes it harder to remove ineffective teachers. A lawsuit by the North Carolina Association of Educators teachers union blocked the law, getting a judge to rule tenure is a contract property right that can’t be taken. Now the case is on appeal.

During Appeals Court arguments, Judge Linda Stephens, a teachers union endorsed judge, expressed skepticism of reforming tenure. “How in the world are we going to attract better teachers when, not only have they historically received extremely low salaries for being teachers in North Carolina, they’ve gotten no raises and now they’ve got no career status option?”

Let’s ignore the facts behind the Judge’s statement, how tenure reform is linked with higher pay and the average raise of $3300 teachers just got. Isn’t Judge Stephens stating an opinion of teacher pay rather than addressing contract law? If teachers are paid one salary, is tenure job protection a right when it wouldn’t be at another salary?

Isn’t it the job of the Governor and Legislature to set pay, not a judge’s job?

If the Judge is concerned about policy like salaries, here are some facts related to the impact of teacher tenure protection on students.

A national survey of teachers found 11% are grading their fellow teachers D for effectiveness and 8% are graded F.

Taxpayers spend a quarter billion dollars giving raises to teachers their districts have determined are ineffective.

Stanford professor Erich Hanushek says “My own research suggests that replacing just 5% to 8% of the least effective teachers with an average teacher would noticeably boost the achievement of our current students and would pay off lavishly in the future, through their enhanced productivity and faster economic growth.”

38% of teachers oppose tenure because they think it makes it harder to dismiss ineffective teachers.

And while unions file lawsuits against reform in North Carolina, New York’s Crown Prince of liberalism, Governor Andrew Cuomo, is talking about tenure reform.

If Judge Stephens is going to consider evidence on teacher pay, will she consider the damage ineffective teachers can do to a child’s future?

The special interests will never stop opposing change. They have everything invested in the status quo. But if we stand firm beside them, you can bet conservative reformers in the State Senate will keep fighting for change for the better.