Editor's Picks

Why are all of the teachers so mad?

North Carolina educators are upset about the state of their profession, and they are taking their concerns from classroom to courtroom to get their voices heard.

Teacher and students Photo by: Dept. of Education

Six North Carolina teachers, along with the State’s educators union (NCAE), have filed suit (pdf) over a portion of the budget passed by the state legislature that would remove teachers’ tenure by 2018.

What many are calling “tenure”—a word that implies lifetime job security—is more aptly described, as applicable to our state, as “career status.”  Career status has historically provided certain North Carolina educators—those with at least four years experience and continuous positive evaluations—with job security by affording certain rights, such as the right to a hearing if ever disciplined or at risk of being fired.  Those who qualify for career status are also relieved of having to renew annual contracts, as long as they maintained satisfactory evaluations.

The new state budget would replace the career status structure with a new system based on teacher contracts.  The legislature proposes to have each school system select the top twenty-five percent of its teachers, and then offer them a four-year contract and a yearly $500 salary increase.  If they choose to accept the offer, these teachers will lose their career status immediately but are still promised protections against disciplinary demotions and firings.  If they decline, they will lose their career status by 2018, when lawmakers hope to have phased out the tenure system entirely. 

“The tenure system has failed our stated by “fostering mediocrity and discouraging excellence.”

The reason behind the new plan? According to the joint statement issued by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, the new plan (pdf) “boosts accountability in the classroom by employing teachers through contracts that are renewed based on job performance – like nearly every other profession.”  The two claim that the tenure system has failed our stated by “foster[ing] mediocrity and discourag[ing] excellence by granting nearly unlimited job security to all who teach a few years.”  The statement points out that by the time the career status scheme is phased out, the state’s most effective teachers will be making an extra $5,000 through permanent pay raises.

But Bill Harrison, Former State School Board Chairman, argues that the legislature is going about it all wrong (pdf).  “The notion that career status makes it impossible to get rid of under-performing teachers is a myth.  We need to be concerned about keeping the excellent teachers we have,” says Harrison. 

“Citizens of North Carolina are going to see a mass exodus of good-quality educators from our state.”

Harrison’s sentiments mirror those of Jeff Nash, spokesman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, who believes that citizens of North Carolina are “going to see a mass exodus of good-quality educators from our state” if the tenure program is put to an end.

The statements from Harrison and Nash echo the concerns of thousands of teachers statewide, who fear that the new plan will have adverse affects on North Carolina’s educators, and consequently, its students.  Many teachers feel that they are getting the short end of the stick—a bum deal in return for their dedication to the state’s education system.

“In the course of my career, I have lived up to my contract. I expect my state to do the same.”

Rich Nixon, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who has taught in Johnston County schools for over 25 years, says that the end of tenure would be a broken promise from the state.  “In return for my service to the children of North Carolina, the state would grant career status – a promise that as long as I did a good job, I would have a good job.  In the course of my career, I have lived up to my contract.  I expect my state to do the same.”

But what would really happen if these educators lost their career status—how many would truly leave our state for brighter horizons?  Doctors Scott Imig and Robert Smith of the University of North Carolina Wilmington conducted a survey (pdf) of over 600 North Carolina teachers—the results of which illustrate that it is not just a situation of “all bark and no bite.” 

Over 74% of respondents indicated that, as a result of the legislative changes, they were less likely to continue working as a teacher/administrator in NC.

The report surveyed teachers regarding “the effects of the legislative changes on the quality of education in their schools, their morale, their plans to pursue graduate education, and their intentions to stay in the profession.”  Granted, the respondents were surveyed regarding many recent legislative changes dealing with education, such as the proposed “opportunity vouchers“—not solely the portion affecting tenure—but the findings were not pretty.  Some of the most critical conclusions:

  • Over 96% of respondents think public education in North Carolina is headed in the wrong direction.
  • Over 74% of respondents indicated that, as a result of the legislative changes, they were less likely to continue working as a teacher/administrator in North Carolina.
  • Nearly three-fourths of all respondents are now less likely to pursue an advanced degree. This percentage is even higher among teachers who currently hold just a bachelor’s degree.
  • Nearly all respondents indicated that the failure to give teachers a raise in pay will have a negative impact on the quality of public education.
  • In regard to the legislature’s plan to eliminate tenure and identify the top 25% of teachers for annual pay raises, approximately 7% of teachers indicated they would give up tenure in exchange for the supplement (64% would not give up tenure and 28% are uncertain).

In evaluating their data the researchers declare, “If one believes that North Carolina’s teachers and administrators are effective barometers of what is occurring in our schools, this report should serve as a wakeup call.”

But according to Berger and Tillis, the voters of North Carolina—which undoubtedly include many teachers—have spoken in a different manner, and the lawsuit filed by the six individuals and the union goes against that voice.

“If at first you don’t succeed at the polls, then sue, sue again.”

“By filing another frivolous lawsuit, the union has made its blueprint clear: ‘If at first you don’t succeed at the polls, then sue, sue again.’”  In the midst of the heated legal battle, the legislators’ statement promises: “While union leaders are focused on succeeding in the courtroom, we’ll remain focused on our children succeeding in the classroom.”

The statement is a reminder to all involved that the children of our state should remain at the heart of the issue.  Regardless of the case’s outcome, we can only hope that both sides will keep focus on what truly matters: the future of those who are unable to fight for their education.

Katelyn Sally, Senior Staff Writer
About Katelyn Sally, Senior Staff Writer (9 Articles)
Katelyn Sally served as a Senior Staff Writer for the Campbell Law Observer. Katelyn is a graduate of University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where she majored in English and Political Science. After graduation she traveled to Torino to serve as an au pair for the family of an Italian judge for six months before coming to law school. She has worked at various private firms in the Wilmington and Charlotte areas, as well as Legal Services of NC. Katelyn also served as an intern at the Mecklenburg County District Attorney's office. She graduated from Campbell Law School in May 2014.
Contact: Email