“States began enacting tenure laws more than a century ago in an attempt to guard against rampant nepotism, cronyism and arbitrary dismissals.” On college campuses, tenure generally amounts to a job guarantee for professors. But in K-12 public schools, tenure entitles teachers to due process in dismissal proceedings. As it exists today in Virginia, administrators can fire a teacher who continues to perform poorly only after being given a chance to improve.
In a recent article posted in the Washington Post, Emma Brown reported that in Virginia, the House is expected to vote Monday (2/13/2012) and the Senate on Tuesday (2/14/2012) on bills that would make “far-reaching changes to rules for evaluating teachers and employment.” Educators in Virginia currently go through a three-year probationary period and then receive “continuing contracts” — often called tenure.
As originally introduced, the bills would have put all teachers on one-year contracts, giving administrators an annual opportunity to review performance and dismiss underperforming teachers; however, the measures have changed as they’ve moved through subcommittees over the last few weeks. Now the bills would place teachers on three-year term contracts, and at the end of each term a new contract could be denied without going through the process usually required to establish cause for dismissal. Teachers who already have continuing contracts would be allowed to keep them as long as they stay with their current school systems.
Governor McDonnell has stated that administrators need to be able to get rid of ineffective teachers and was quoted in January stating “You perform well, you keep your job,”when he introduced his K-12 Education Initiatives Package to the Legislature. “You don’t perform well for an extended period of time, you don’t get a guarantee.” McDonell’s initiatives have sparked intense resistance from labor leaders who feel that if passed, this legislation would permit administrators to get rid of teachers for reasons other than their merits such as personality conflicts.
The National Council on Teacher Quality has reported that since 2009, 12 states have taken measures to link student achievement to teacher evaluation and employment. Some may recall that this was a stipulation for states accepting and using Federal Stimulus Funds. Virginia is among many other states who are trying to adopt changes and implement policies to eliminate seniority-based job protection.
The acceptance of Federal Stimulus Funds also stipulated that teacher evaluation systems had to be revised. The revisions are to include a seventh standard, the use of student achievement data in teacher evaluations. The changes in teacher tenure are meant to dovetail with policy changes regarding standard 7. The sentiment expressed by many is that a teacher whose students are showing academic growth should have no problems gaining contract renewal.
Emma Bron reports that, “Groups representing the state’s superintendents and school boards support the legislation. But teachers’ representatives see the measure as a demoralizing attack on the profession that will discourage talented recruits from working in Virginia, especially when teachers in neighboring Maryland are granted tenure protection after three years on the job.”
“In the long run, it creates a very unfriendly environment for any young teacher who might want to move to Virginia from out-of-state,” said Kitty Boitnott, president of the Virginia Education Association, which has fought the bill. The association is an affiliate of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.
Labor activists in Northern Virginia have been raising the alarm, urging teachers to call and e-mail lawmakers to express opposition to the bills. But it’s not clear how widely that message is being heard, perhaps because the changes will have their most dramatic effect on teachers who aren’t yet employed.
I would encourage all educators to pay close attention to these bills and how representatives and delegates vote to enact them. It is my personal opinion that when you have too much policy being addressed all at one time, the impact can be catastrophic. It is evident that there are still many questions that need to be answered with regards to standard 7 and teacher tenure. Of course, looming in the back of my mind is that Virginia still has not chosen to adopt the common core standards but has opted instead to hold on to our Standards of Learning. I am left wondering what will come of all of this potential policy change?