Eighteen States Changed Tenure Laws in 2011, Report Says

By Sean Cavanagh — August 23, 2011 1 min read
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School-choice advocates might quarrel with me on this, but you could make a pretty strong argument that as far as legislative policymaking goes, 2011 has been the year of the teacher—as in the year when governors and lawmakers made major, far-reaching changes to how teachers in this country are evaluated, how they advance, and how they are paid.

Many of those policies, of course, have drawn strong objections from educators and the unions representing them, who say the new laws will stigmatize teachers, and have the effect of pushing effective teachers out of the profession.

State officials were especially determined to change laws affecting teacher tenure. So far this year, at least 18 states have approved laws affecting teacher tenure and the granting of continuing contracts, according to a new report by the Education Commission of the States, which provides a comprehensive, state-by-state breakdown of that activity. Many states have made it more difficult to obtain those job protections, or they’ve tied tenure to performance.

ECS says that Idaho was the first state to pass a law to say explicitly that, “No new employment contract between a school district and certificated employee shall result in the vesting of tenure, continued expectations of employment or property rights in an employment relationship.”

Idaho’s law, by the way, is being challenged at the ballot box. Voters in the state will be given the opportunity in the fall of 2012 to overturn that law and a number of other contentious school policies backed by Republicans in the state this year.

ECS describes the state of play on tenure this way:

In the past, states have addressed the issue of teacher dismissal in various ways. Some state legislatures simply eliminated the term tenure from the law; some tightened the due process timelines and/or due process elements, such as hearings and appeals; and other states stipulated the collective bargaining process as the means of determining nonrenewal and/or dismissal at the local school district level. However, more recently, an increasing number of states have begun to more significantly rewrite their laws related to teacher tenure. An increasing number of states, for example, are distinguishing between renewal at the end of a contract and dismissal during the term of a contract. More state legislatures are beginning to embed teacher performance evaluation in decisions to grant tenure or to explicitly state the terms of contracts.

ECS provides descriptions of states’ tenure policies, the protections they provide, the process required to remove teachers from the classroom, and the appeals process. A valuable resource.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.