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June 13, 2014

States getting rid of teacher tenures, returning to annual contracts

Corporations opting to return teachers to annual contracts

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even before a judge’s scathing ruling against California’s teacher tenure policies, the once-sacred protections that make it harder to fire teachers already had been weakened in many states — and even removed altogether in some places.

Florida, for example, put all teachers hired after 2011 on an annual teaching contract, which essentially did away with tenure protections.

Kansas and North Carolina also are seeking to eliminate tenure or phase it out. The nonpartisan Education Commission of the States, which highlighted the changes in a recent report, says 16 states — up from 10 in 2011 — now require the results of teacher evaluations be used in determining whether to grant tenure.

Not all changes have stuck, and few are without a political fight.

Teacher tenure protections were established in the 20th century to protect teachers from arbitrary or discriminatory firings based on factors such as gender, nationality or political beliefs. They spell out rules under which teachers may be dismissed after they pass a probationary period. But critics say the tenure protections make it too difficult to fire ineffective teachers.

The debate over teacher tenure comes as many states, propelled by Obama administration-led incentives, develop more meaningful teacher evaluation systems that seek to provide a more accurate picture of student learning under a teacher. Using such systems, the Education Commission of the States says seven states make teachers return to probationary status if they are rated “ineffective,” meaning they have no assurances their contracts will be renewed at the end of the school year.

“A good number of states have effectively done away with tenure through their new evaluation systems that include measurements of student achievement,” said Michelle Exstrom, education program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu in Los Angeles sided with nine students who sued to overturn California statutes governing teacher hiring and firing, saying they served no compelling purpose and had led to an unfair, nonsensical system that drove excellent new teachers from the classroom too soon and kept incompetent senior ones. The practices harm students in a way that “shocks the conscience” and have “a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students,” the judge wrote.

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