07/12/2011 01:05 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2011

States Keep Pushing For Tougher Teacher Policies

As the majority of legislative sessions around the country come to a close, many states will finish the season having pushed through policy changes that are likely to have a notable impact on teachers.
Building on the momentum from the previous two years, in which lawmakers began aggressively pursuing teacher-related reforms, about a dozen states passed laws since January that curb or otherwise modify teacher tenure, teacher evaluations, last-in-first-out policies, and collective bargaining. And several more states are on the verge of passing similar laws as they wrap up their legislative sessions.

Jennifer Dounay Zinth, a senior policy analyst at the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, which has been tracking the legislation closely, said the protracted interest in revamping the teaching profession amounts to a "sea change."

"It's hard to get your arms around--not just the number of bills being enacted but the breadth and depth of changes being made," she said. "If somebody had asked me in 2010 if I thought states would be doing away with teacher tenure or the Wisconsin union battle [would have happened], I wouldn't have listed either as something I expected down the pipeline" in 2011.
Legislative Highlights

In the first six months of this year, at least a dozen state legislatures passed laws, which their governors signed, altering teachers' conditions of employment. Actions affected collective bargaining, seniority, evaluations, and tenure, among other policies. In some categories without checkmarks, similar legislation by that state may have taken effect in previous years. And some states' actions on tenure, seniority, and evaluation could ultimately have an influence on collective bargaining.

During this session, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, and Utah ended the practice of automatically laying off the newest teachers when reductions in force are necessary (so-called last-in-first-out policies). And Ms. Zinth noted that there have been 11 policy changes so far this year that affect union operations, including new restrictions on collective bargaining in seven states.

Idaho made some of the most sweeping changes to teacher-related policies, limiting collective bargaining to compensation and benefits, phasing out tenure, tying teacher evaluations to student-achievement data, and ending the last-in-first-out policy. Sandi Jacobs, the vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based research and advocacy group, said the fact that the policy changes were enacted wasn't "particularly surprising" because Idaho's education commissioner, Tom Luna, had made his intention to tackle teacher issues clear for some time. "But I think the sheer volume is a surprise," she added.

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