A+ Leaders Address Lawmakers, Endorse Pending Tenure Reform Bill

A+ College Ready Program Director Tammy Dunn joined A+ Education Partnership President Caroline Novak at the Alabama Statehouse last week to testify, amidst overflow crowds, in support of the “Students First Act of 2011”, SB310/HB465, sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman (R-Daphne) and Rep. Chad Fincher (R-Semmes). The proposal, which is aimed at improving Alabama’s laws regarding tenure for education employees, is one of the most high-profile bills of the session, and is likely to see legislative action as early as this week.

The proposed legislation provides for fair, responsible and timely protection of a teacher’s due process rights, while providing balance and local accountability now absent from the law. The bill also addresses a problem with the current law which allows terminated teachers and support personnel to receive pay and benefits while waiting for an appeal. Such an appeal process often takes more than a year, and many employees — some of whom have already admitted wrongdoing — continue to draw pay while no longer on the job.

During the hearing, many educators opposing the bill incorrectly stated that the bill would end tenure all together.

“States are pursuing one of three strategies to address tenure reform,” Novak said. “The first strategy eliminates tenure. Tenure in Florida and Idaho was replaced with annual contracts for new teachers.”

Novak said the second — and more reasonable — strategy is to bring educators and lawmakers together to address the value of tenure by making the earning of tenure more meaningful. This can be done, she said, by lengthening the probationary period and tying tenure to performance evaluations that include measures of growth in student achievement. She added that Colorado and Tennessee are among the states that have adopted this approach.

The third strategy, Novak explained, would streamline the dismissal process, making it more efficient and less costly to dismiss employees. This is the path Alabama has chosen to pursue.

“We think this strategy is a responsible but restrained approach to tenure reform, and because of that — we believe it should result in bipartisan support,” Novak said.

Dunn, a former teacher, testified later in the hearing to share her perspective on the importance of the bill.

“I love teaching and I love teachers,” she said. “When we talk about economic growth in this state, we need to look no further than the quality of our schools and the quality of our teachers.”
Dunn said it is important that teaching jobs be filled with the best and most qualified professionals we can find, noting that she often reminds parents that “You need look no further than the quality of your child’s teacher to tell what kind of an education your child is going to get that year.” Unfortunately, she said, not every teacher in Alabama is an effective teacher.

“I’ve taught at four different buildings and I supervised 22 schools when I was working in district administration, and I’ve never seen a single school where every teacher puts the students first. I’ve never seen a single school where student achievement is every teacher’s number one priority.”

Alabama’s 2004 Teacher of the Year, Dunn said she wants the teaching profession to be elevated and for people in Alabama to believe that all teachers are willing and able to make their students’ needs their top priority. She added that while most Alabama teachers are professionals who put students first, there are, regrettably, too many who do not.

“Alabama’s students deserve the very best. We must provide a way for schools and school districts to make that a reality,” Dunn said.

A+ Education Partnership joined the Alabama Association of School Boards, the School Superintendents of Alabama, the Business Council of Alabama, the State Department of Education and the Postsecondary System in support of the bill.

Read the Birmingham News editorial on last week’s hearing here.
To view SB310, click here.