News: CJ Exclusives

Senate Leader Introduces Second Round of Education Reforms

Ending teacher tenure and increasing accountability highlight agenda

N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger Tuesday unveiled the second phase of his education reform agenda, calling for an end to teacher tenure, placing a greater emphasis on literacy, pushing for accountability in the classroom, and allowing state employees to volunteer in a public school literacy program for up to five hours per month.

“The days of accepting a broken education system in North Carolina are over,” said Berger, a Rockingham County Republican. “We must continue to demand better and positive change for our kids.”

The proposal includes ending teacher tenure by the end of the 2013-14 school year and replacing it with optional contracts.

Teachers with fewer than three years experience would be given one-year contracts by local school boards. Teachers with three or more years would be given contracts that would last no longer than four years.

Berger, responding to a reporter’s question, said the current teacher tenure system could be an impediment to teachers doing their jobs well.

“Teaching is a profession, but like a lot of other jobs, human nature will work its way into any dynamic,” Berger said. “What we’re concerned about is the incentives that are out there and trying to make sure that we have incentives for folks to excel as much as possible.”

Berger said he’s getting feedback from parents, school personnel, and volunteers regarding teachers who are not helping students.

“Is that a large number of teachers?” Berger asked, rhetorically. “I don’t think so. I think it’s a very small number of the teachers that we have. But if it’s one teacher, and it’s a teacher [who’s] teaching your child, then it’s a huge problem.”

Brian Lewis, a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of Educators, said he and other NCAE officials were still going through the details of the proposal.

“We worked with him [Berger] a year ago,” Lewis said, referring to the education reform package passed by the General Assembly in 2012. “We’re looking forward to working with him this year and coming up with a good bill.”

Berger’s proposal also emphasizes literacy by strengthening teacher education programs and licensure requirements.

In addition, the proposal would allow state employees to volunteer in a public school literacy program for up to five hours per month.

It would require end-of-grade and end-of-course testing to occur in the final 10 days of an academic year or the final five days of an academic semester, freeing the remaining days for instructional time.

The bill would expand on a method of grading schools that was enacted last year but has yet to take effect, using letter grades rather than terms such as “schools of excellence” and “schools of progress.” Berger said that when those descriptive phrases are used, “nobody really knows which was a good [school] and which was a bad one.”

The change is aimed at greater transparency and giving parents more information about their children’s schools, Berger said.

Berger said that he expects the bill to get a committee review in the next couple of weeks.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.