Retaining Effective Teachers Policy
The state should articulate that ineffective classroom performance is grounds for dismissal and ensure that the process for terminating ineffective teachers is expedient and fair to all parties. This goal remains unchanged in 2021.
Link to Ineffectiveness: Arizona makes "inadequacy of classroom performance" grounds for dismissal. Teachers who continue to receive the lowest performance classification for two consecutive years and mandatory intervention are eligible for dismissal. The governing board must provide the teacher with a written "preliminary notice of inadequacy of classroom performance." Within 10 days, the teacher begins a 45-day period to correct the inadequacy. If the teacher does not correct deficiencies within this time frame, the board "shall dismiss the teacher either within ten days of the service of a subsequent notice of inadequacy of classroom performance or by the end of the contract year." The teacher facing dismissal may file a written request for a hearing within 10 days of receiving this notice.
Due Process Distinction: Arizona takes steps to differentiate between due process rights of teachers in the process of being dismissed for poor performance and teachers in the process of being dismissed for charges associated with license revocation, e.g., a felony and/or morality violations. However, it seems as though once the dismissal occurs, the same appeals process applies to all teachers, regardless of whether they are being dismissed for poor performance or for other charges commonly associated with license revocation, such as a felony and/or morality violations.
Appeals Process: Arizona's tenured teachers who are terminated may appeal multiple times. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher has 10 days to file a first appeal. A hearing must occur within 30 days after the request is filed. Once the governing board has made its decision, the teacher has 30 days to file another appeal with the county's superior court. The state does not address the time frame for this appeal, except to articulate that "the proceeding shall be set for hearing at the earliest possible date and shall take precedence over all other cases, except older matters of the same character and matters to which special precedence is otherwise given by law."
Arizona Revised Statute 15-537; 15-539; 15-541; 15-543
Ensure that teachers terminated for poor performance have the opportunity to appeal within a reasonable time frame.
Nonprobationary teachers who are dismissed for any grounds, including ineffectiveness, are entitled to due process. However, cases that remain open over multiple years drain resources from school districts and disincentivize districts from terminating poor performers. Therefore, Arizona must ensure that the opportunity to appeal occurs only once and only at the district level. It is in the best interest of both the teacher and the district that a conclusion is reached within a reasonable time frame. Arizona's guideline stating that the appeal should be heard at the earliest possible date is too vague to ensure a reasonable time frame.
Distinguish between the process and accompanying due process rights for dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
Although Arizona has taken steps to differentiate due process rights for teachers facing dismissal for poor performance from due process rights for teachers dismissed for charges associated with license revocation (e.g., a felony and/or morality violations), the only difference, in effect, appears to lie in the process leading up to providing a teacher with a dismissal notice. The state's appeals policy seems still to apply equally to all teachers. Nonprobationary teachers should have due process for any termination, but it is important to differentiate between loss of employment and issues with far-reaching consequences that could permanently affect a teacher's right to practice. Arizona should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are decided only by those with educational expertise.
Arizona recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
States need to be explicit that teacher ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.
Most states have laws on their books that address teacher dismissal; however, until recently these laws were much more likely to consider criminal and moral violations than performance. While many states have amended their dismissal policy to be more explicit about classroom ineffectiveness, some still retain euphemistic terms such as "incompetency," "inefficiency," or "incapacity." These terms are ambiguous at best and may be interpreted as concerning dereliction of duty rather than ineffectiveness. Without laws that clearly state that teacher ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal, districts may feel they lack the legal basis for terminating consistently poor performers.
Due process must be efficient and expedited. Non-probationary teachers who are dismissed for any grounds, including ineffectiveness, are entitled to due process. However, due process rights that allow for multiple levels of appeal are not fair to teachers, districts and especially students. All parties have a right to have disputes settled quickly. Cases that drag on for years drain resources from school districts and create a disincentive for districts to attempt to terminate teachers for poor performance. Teachers are not well served by such processes either, as they are entitled to final resolution quickly.
Decisions about teachers should be made by those with educational expertise.
Multiple levels of appeal almost invariably involve courts or arbitrators who lack educational expertise. It is not in students' best interest to have the evidence of teachers' effectiveness evaluated by those who are not educators. A teacher's opportunity to appeal should occur at the district level and involve only those with educational expertise. This can be done in a manner that is fair to all parties by including retired teachers or other knowledgeable individuals who are not current district employees.