Thursday, February 16, 2012

Virginia House Approves Abolition of Teacher Tenure

Bound and Gagged (Image from Flickr by Kouk)
The Virginia House of Delegates voted to end tenure-related job protections for public school teachers on Monday, the Washington Post reported, a measure that was pushed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell in order to “improve” public education. The Senate, however, rejected the measure on Tuesday. The Senate could still vote on the House’s version of the bill, but approval would be unlikely without garnering more votes.

Virginia teachers currently must work for three years without any job security or due process rights. After three years on probation with good evaluations, they can earn tenure and receive “continuing contracts” which guarantee due process hearings before they can be dismissed.

Under the new bill, probation would be extended to five years and continuing contracts would be replaced with three-year contracts. Any teacher could be let go at the end of a three-year contract for any reason, even a good teacher who consistently has good evaluations, thus obliterating due process and job security. The new rules would only apply to current first-year teachers and future hires, according to the Post.

One consequence of laws like this will likely be a worsening of the teacher shortage. Teaching is already a difficult and stressful job. It also does not pay very well. Why should young people want to invest two or more years into a credential and master’s degree and then work for five years at low pay with no job security, without any confidence they will have a job at the end of the five years?

Another consequence is that administrators will be able to use their new leeway in firing to get rid of teachers who are active union members, who disagree with them or who advocate too strongly for their students. It will stifle dissent and squelch free and open dialogue and collaboration. Workers who can be fired for any reason have to be extra cautious of what they say publicly and how they say it, even when it is for the safety and wellbeing of children. However, when someone has invested so much time, money, heart and soul into obtaining a teaching job and becoming part of a school community, they may be even less willing to risk it all by speaking out.

Twelve states have enacted tenure reforms linking teachers’ employment status to student achievement since 2009. Tenure “reform” laws are also being considered in Connecticut, New Jersey, Missouri, South Dakota and Louisiana this year.


  1. Principals already have way too much power and can dump teachers they don't want anyway. This is all about denying teachers the right to defined-benefit pensions. You can imagine all of the teachers, especially those over 50, who are just short of getting vested and being sacked for reasons of cost.

    These reformers don't understand tenure actually protects school districts rather than teachers from civil suits in that it helps put a brake on a principal's worst impulses. Of course they can fire teachers anyway, but at least districts can be forced to hold kangaroo "due process" hearings.