Return of Teacher Career Status

North Carolina public school teachers who had career status as of 2013 are allowed to keep it following a state Supreme Court ruling last week.

The Court unanimously held that the General Assembly could not revoke the status, often called tenure, because doing so violated the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court did not consider the appealed ruling from a lower state court that ruled the law invalid based on property rights clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling means that teachers who had career status before the law took effect in 2013 are entitled to keep it. However, teachers who were employed but did not have career status, nor any new hires since then, can earn career status according to the court’s ruling and 2013 law. In an editorial on Friday, April 22, the News & Observer sided with teachers.

Career status is an important facet of being a teacher. While it has been characterized as protecting ineffective teachers from being fired, career status merely grants due process rights so teachers cannot be fired at-will. The state Department of Public Instruction has strict rules regarding teacher observation and evaluation, as well as beginning teacher training. Many WCPSS schools also include informal and unannounced observations called “walkthroughs” or “learning rounds” which are spot-checks to see if teachers are adhering to specific best practices and that students are engaged and aware of the expectations of that class time.

These processes allow administrators to know what is happening in any given classroom throughout the school day. Concerns about teacher effectiveness don’t usually go unnoticed and can be addressed early. More importantly, administrators often observe excellent instructional practices which can be shared out to the whole school staff and incorporated into professional development.

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