With education reform at the forefront, the debate over teacher tenure is far from over.

If teachers feel as though their job security is under attack, they’re right: Efforts to abolish or chip away at teacher tenure and erode collective bargaining rights have been popping up across the country, most recently with the filing last week of a petition that would eliminate tenure for new teachers in Missouri.

The petition comes on the heels of a year that saw an unprecedented number of legislative efforts to rewrite teacher tenure laws, according to one national education policy expert.

“Last year was a sea change,” said Kathy Christie, vice president for knowledge and information management with the Education Commission of the States, based in Denver.

The organization tracked 18 state legislatures that had modified some element of their teacher tenure or continuing contract policies. Of the most notable was Idaho, where legislators enacted a bill banning tenure for new teachers and other certified employees.

While some states’ leaders waged intense battles with teachers’ unions, Illinois changed its approach to teacher tenure with less conflict. There, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a measure that links educators’ tenure, hiring, and job security to performance, rather than to seniority. The law makes it easier to remove an educator from the classroom for continuously poor performance.

For more education reform news, see our School Reform Center at eSN Online.

In Missouri, legislative efforts to alter teacher tenure were not successful last year, nor were they greeted warmly by the teachers union. A bill to end teacher tenure and institute a merit pay system for Missouri’s public school teachers died.

Last week, a Jefferson City attorney revived a key focus of the failed bill by filing an initiative petition aimed at eliminating tenure for new teachers through a constitutional amendment.

“Across the country, people recognize that the current education structure is not working and that having the sole basis for retaining teachers being that they’ve been there the longest is probably not a way to make sure we have the best teachers in the classroom,” said Marc Ellinger, who filed the initiative petition with the Secretary of State’s office on Jan. 17.

Chris Guinther, president of the Missouri National Education Association, sees the effort as an unnecessary slam on teachers.