Would teachers face heat if tenure was lost?

Posted at 9:54 PM, Feb 13, 2012
and last updated 2012-02-13 21:54:00-05

Virginia lawmakers have passed legislation that will make it easier for school divisions to fire teachers and principals who are not performing well.

On Monday, The House of Delegates voted 55-43 in favor of legislation that would phase out a tenure-like system in favor of term contracts for educators.

The legislation was one of Governor Bob McDonnell’s top education initiatives.  The “Opportunity to Learn” initiative establishes a three-year term contract and evaluation process for teachers and principals.

“This initiative will recognize our teachers for their success; provide teachers and administrators with benchmarking and performance measures; and, in the end, yield better results for our students,” said the governor in a press statement.

However, Angela Dews, a special education teacher for twenty years, and now president of The Richmond Education Association, believes the legislation violates an educator’s “due process.”

“We’re all about accountability, but we want a fair process for all teachers,” said Dews.

Dews said the current system gives under-performing educators a probationary period to get the resources they need to improve.  She fears the legislation paves the way for educators to be dismissed without a warning or reason.

But Republican delegate Richard “Dickie” Bell, the bill’s sponsor, said the legislation is about rewarding teachers based on merit, but tenure.

He says the current system doesn’t encourage educators to keep striving for excellence after a three year period.

“In many cases, in too many cases, professional growth and good teaching kind of stops,” said Bell.  “There’s no real incentive to continue growing as a teacher.”

Delegate Jennifer McClellan, D- Henrico, said she questions the bill’s fairness. 
“In some of our school divisions where the students are not performing as well as others, there’s going to be a lot of political pressure and they’re going to blame somebody,” she said. “It just seems now the easy thing to do is blame the teacher.”

Bell says the bill’s intent is to be fair and take into consideration external factors facing Virginia’s teachers.

Senate lawmakers will vote on similar legislation on Tuesday.

Virginia Education Association President, basically the teacher’s union, Kitty Boitnott has asked all teachers to wear black, in response to the legislation.

Boitnott said they've had enough. “Black is the only thing we can wear to symbolize the grieving we are feeling.”

“Don't bother to come to Virginia if you want any kind of job stability and security,” she added.

Delegate Dickie Bell, also a former teacher, said this legislation will do the total opposite and keep away underperforming teachers who manage to stay in the classroom under this current system.