Public hearing on controversial teacher contracts scheduled during school day

Public hearing on controversial teacher contracts scheduled during school day

- in Education

LW-1162014

Few teachers able to express their concerns and objections over new contract system that replaces tenure

A grand total of three teachers and two public education advocates attended the NC Department of Public Instruction’s public hearing on the proposed model teacher contract, which local school districts will use to award the top 25 percent of teachers with 4-year contracts that may come with $500 bonuses for each of those four years—as long as those teachers give up their tenure.

The public hearing was held during regular school hours at DPI’s offices in Raleigh.

“If this meeting had taken place during a time that wasn’t the regular school day, you’d see a lot more teachers here,” said Mike Albert, an English teacher at Grimsley Senior High School in Greensboro.

“We’re dedicated teachers, so a lot of us weren’t able to come and represent the way a lot of us are feeling,” said Albert.

Those feelings are not positive, said Albert and the two other educators who spoke at the half-hour hearing on Wednesday afternoon.

Temporary teacher contracts in exchange for tenure

Lawmakers voted to dismantle teacher tenure, formally known as “career status,” last summer.

Going forward, new teachers will not be able to earn career status. By 2018 all current teachers who have earned tenure will no longer have this benefit, which offers due process rights in the event of dismissal or demotion – not a guarantee of a lifetime job.

Instead, teachers will be given 1-, 2- or 4-year temporary contracts. Beginning next fall, teachers who are determined to be in the top 25 percent of their peers will be offered 4-year contracts in exchange for relinquishing their tenure.

Those contracts also come with $500 bonuses for each of the four years; however, lawmakers have committed funding to only the first year of the contracts at this time. It’s also unclear if teachers would revert back to their original salaries after the end of the 4-year contract period.

Carol Vandenbergh, executive director of Professional Educators of North Carolina (PENC), called for the teacher contract to make clear to teachers that they may not receive what has been promised by the General Assembly.

“Teachers who accept a contract for the upcoming school year, in which they will voluntarily relinquish tenure in exchange for a $500 salary increase over the course of their 4-year contract, should be provided a very clearly written description,” said Vandenbergh, “That makes clear to the employee that the $500 yearly increase is not guaranteed after the 2014-15 school year should a future General Assembly discontinue that pay increase.”

And which teachers make it into the top 25 percent?

The law says that local superintendents get to determine which teachers fall into the 25 percent pool and put their names forth for consideration, as long as they’ve been working for three consecutive years and has shown proficiency on the teacher evaluation instrument. The local school board makes the final decision and is not obligated to go with the superintendent’s recommendation.

For Grimsley teacher Mike Albert, that’s a troubling proposition.

“I teach about 800 hours a year, yet I’m only evaluated on two or three of those hours,” said Albert.

Albert also described numerous inconsistencies with how students are graded on their EOC (end-of-course) exams, which are then used to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness in their classrooms.

“The [teacher evaluation instrument] is simply not ready yet for judging us on how we should be paid,” said Albert.

Merit pay bad for collaboration, bad for students?

Adding an element of competition to the classroom will be good for boosting academic achievement, say lawmakers who have pushed for the new teacher contract system.

Veteran teacher Deb Green doesn’t see it that way.

“My focus is what this policy will do to kids,” said Deb Green, an 11-year teacher with Guilford County Schools, about the teacher contracts.

“If you create a policy where teachers feel like they are not in a safe place to share best practices, to share their ideas, then they’re going to keep everything to themselves, they’re going to hoard it, because now every teacher is a competitor for becoming one of the 25 percent,” said Green.

“When teachers see each other as competitors rather than collaborators, that’s going to impact kids’ education.”

Gov. Pat McCrory alluded to building on the idea of merit pay with his upcoming education plan, to be announced in the coming weeks.

In a speech to lawmakers and other stakeholders earlier this week, McCrory said his team is working with legislators, the State Board of Education and his Teacher Advisory Committee to develop career plans for high-performing teachers that will enable them to earn higher pay and stay in the classroom.

A handful of other states and the UK have tried merit pay with little to no success.

New York City’s merit pay program came to a halt when researchers at RAND found the program did not raise student achievement in mathematics or reading in any grade, nor did it improve teacher job satisfaction. The findings led to the city’s decision to eliminate the program in 2011.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has recently tried merit pay in Newark schools, thanks to a large grant from Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook.

Newark’s teachers received far less in merit pay than what was initially promised, though. Ultimately, only 11 teachers actually received the top bonus that was promised.

More opportunities for feedback?

Rep. Tricia Cotham called DPI out on Twitter for holding a hearing on the proposed model teacher contract at a time when most teachers are teaching and not able to attend.

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Asked why DPI scheduled this public hearing during the school day, staff attorney Katie Cornetto issued the following response:

The hearing for the temporary rule was scheduled based on availability of the court reporter and availability of rooms at DPI. The hearing for the permanent rule will be scheduled for a time after typical school hours if possible.  In any event, comments may be made in writing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to the SBE and these written comments carry the same impact as the comments made during the public hearing.  The reason we have a public hearing in person is to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act in state law.

DPI also indicated to NC Policy Watch that they would continue to accept written feedback past yesterday’s deadline. Those interested should submit their comments to Lou Martin at lou.martin@dpi.nc.gov

Even if another public hearing is held after school hours, which would offer a better opportunity for rich debate on the issue of teacher contracts, they aren’t going away anytime soon—they are the law of the land, for now.

“It’s discouraging and a little bit maddening to think that we should be here talking about changes of this consequence because two men and their staffs met in a room this past July and horse-traded,” said Larry Niles, president of the Wake County chapter of the North Carolina Association of Educators.

Comments? Questions? Education Reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com.

About the author

Lindsay Wagner, former Education Reporter for N.C. Policy Watch. Wagner now works as a Senior Writer and Researcher at the NC Public School Forum. She has also worked for the American Federation of Teachers in Washington, D.C., as a writer and researcher focusing on higher education issues and for the National Education Association, the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright program and the Brookings Institution and an Education Specialist at the A.J. Fletcher Foundation.
lawgner@ncforum.org