Although Virginia is supposedly one of the states that links tenure to the results of teacher evaluations, the reality of tenure as a reward for a job well done is quite different. Even in the lowest-performing school districts around the state, grants of tenure remain chiefly automatic, and only a very small proportion of teachers didn't get tenure after serving out their three-year probationary period.
Analyzing data released by the National Center for Education Statistics and National Council for Teacher Quality, Watchdog.org found that fewer than 1.32% of teachers in Virginia were turned down for tenure and laid off for underperforming. This puts Virginia well towards the bottom of the list among all 50 states.
This information will probably buoy efforts by Governor Bob McDonnell to push a law that links teacher assessment to student achievement through the state Legislature. A version of the bill that did this very thing was defeated in the Senate during the last legislative session, and McDonnell has already committed to putting it in front of lawmakers again this 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 Greenburg, President of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, said that making evaluation tougher could put a big burden on the shoulders of administrators and principals who are already working hard trying to keep too many balls in the air — one of which is to keep a very close eye on the teachers currently in their probationary period.
Although Greenburg said that "a lot" of the teachers don't receive tenure, his assertion is discredited by the statistical evidence.
At Portsmouth city schools, all 68 instructors eligible for continuing contracts received them last year. In Mecklenburg County, 308 of 325 teachers were granted contracts. Only one instructor seeking a continuing contract did not earn one — and that was due to "licensure deficiencies." The other 15 retired, resigned or were laid off, officials said.
Data for Greenburg's Fairfax county – where student performance counts for 40% of the final teacher effectiveness grade – is harder to come by because the district didn't release the number of teachers who were eligible to receive tenure this year. However, publicly available data shows that the largest school district in the state gave "conditional appointments" to 58 teachers last year, of which two were eventually let go for poor performance.