At the end of the three years, a teacher could be let go for poor performance — or for any reason at all — without an opportunity to appeal.
“You perform well, you keep your job,” Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) said last month when he proposed the overhaul as part of a plan to improve Virginia schools. “You don’t perform well for an extended period of time, you don’t get a guarantee.”
The proposal would affect teachers who are in their first year or who are hired in the future, not Virginia teachers with more time in the job.
McDonnell’s effort has provoked intense resistance from labor leaders and their allies, who say the legislation would allow principals to get rid of teachers because of personality conflicts or other petty reasons.
“You’ve got a lot of teachers who already don’t have the best morale, but they’ve got some sense of job security, and now you’re going to take that job security away,” said Del. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Henrico), who opposes the legislation. “I think it sends the wrong message.”
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 public elementary and secondary schools, tenure entitles teachers to due process in dismissal proceedings. Administrators can fire a teacher who continues to perform poorly after being given a chance to improve.
In recent years, tenure laws have come under bipartisan attack from critics who say they shield ineffective teachers from disciplinary action. President Obama and former Florida governor Jeb Bush (R) are among those political leaders who have sought to give administrators broader powers to remove ineffective teachers.
Since 2009, 12 states have taken measures to link decisions about teacher employment to student achievement, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy organization based in Washington. Some school systems, including the D.C. public schools, have also eliminated seniority-based job protection.
Now, Virginia is among several states — including New Jersey, South Dakota and Connecticut — that are contemplating changes.
“The bottom line? Today tenure is too easy to get and too hard to take away,” Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) said when he introduced a tenure reform proposal last week. Teachers, he added, should be required to “continue to prove your effectiveness in the classroom as your career progresses.”