By Ashleigh Costello
RICHMOND, Va.—A new study shows that nearly all Virginia teachers are granted tenure after a three-year probationary period, regardless of their performance.
Even in the lowest-performing school districts, survey results show that only a very small portion of teachers are let go by their districts.
Less than 1.32% of teachers in Virginia were denied tenure and laid off for underperforming in the 2008 school year, according to Watchdog.org, a nonprofit organization that analyzed data released by the National Center for Education Statistics and National Council for Teacher Quality.
Earlier this year, Gov. Bob McDonnell championed a bill that would have extended teachers’ probationary period to five years and replaced tenure with three-year contracts. Teacher assessment would have been tied to student performance. The bill was defeated in the Senate during the last legislative session, but McDonnell has promised to reintroduce the bill in January.
“We have had a number of forums and conferences to hear from legislators and stakeholders about their ideas for K-12 education. The governor is very focused on teacher professionalism and ensuring all students have the opportunity for a quality education regardless of ZIP code,” said McDonnell spokesman Jeff Caldwell.
Steve Greensburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, defended the tenure process and urged politicians to “be careful what they ask for,” according to Watchdog.org.
“If you expect too much with not enough time, people don’t do their jobs as well. Overwhelming principals (with more involved teacher evaluations) will mean they aren’t done properly,” said Greensburg.
He also said teachers are “watched very carefully” in their first three years and that “a lot” of the teachers don’t receive tenure. However, the numbers prove otherwise.
In Fairfax, the state’s largest school system, 58 teachers received “conditional appointments” in 2007-08, but only two of those were “dismissed for cause,” spokesman John Torre told Watchdog.org. The district did not report how many total teachers were eligible for continuing contracts (tenure).
In Mecklenburg County, 308 of 325 teachers were granted tenure in 2007-08. Only one instructor’s request for tenure was denied due to “licensure deficiencies.” The others retired, resigned, or were laid off. At Portsmouth City Schools, all 68 eligible instructors received tenure. And the list goes on.
Once tenure is granted, it becomes nearly impossible to fire ineffective or inappropriate teachers.
Many states have recently taken steps to reform the tenure system. Florida abolished K-12 tenure last year. While veteran teachers were grandfathered in, all new public school teachers now work on year-to-year contracts with no guarantee of reappointment.
New York, New Jersey, Tennessee, Colorado, and Washington, D.C., have all implemented models that link student performance to teacher rewards and tenure. Teachers that receive below-satisfactory performance ratings in two consecutive years can be denied tenure.
If McDonnell’s bill passes through the state legislature in January, Virginia schools may be next to see sweeping reforms.
Despite pushback from the unions, the governor remains optimistic, calling the setback “a delay, not a defeat.”