Dismissal for Poor Performance: Arizona

2011 Exiting Ineffective Teachers Policy

Goal

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.

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Dismissal for Poor Performance: Arizona results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AZ-Dismissal-for-Poor-Performance-10

Analysis of Arizona's policies

Arizona makes "inadequacy of classroom performance" grounds for dismissal. In addition, the state takes steps to differentiate the due process rights of teachers facing dismissal for poor performance leading up to the actual notice of dismissal. However, it seems as though once the dismissal occurs, all teachers undergo the same appeals process, 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.

The governing board must provide the teacher with a written "preliminary notice of inadequacy of classroom performance." Within ten days, the teacher begins a 60-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 subesequent 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. 

In Arizona, teachers facing dismissal 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."

Citation

Recommendations for Arizona

Specify that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.
Arizona leaves it up to districts to develop definitions of "inadequacy of classroom performance," failing to ensure that teachers who receive a certain number of ineffective evaluation ratings are eligible for dismissal. The state should consider establishing at least some marker for what defines inadequacy in the classroom so that districts do not feel they lack the legal basis for terminating consistently poor performers. Without this specification, Arizona's efforts to improve its evaluation framework (see Goal 3-B) may be undermined.  

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 drag on for years drain resources from school districts and create a disincentive for districts to attempt to terminate poor performers. Therefore, the state 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 be reached within a reasonable time frame. 

Distinguish the process and accompanying due process rights between dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
While Arizona has taken steps to differentiate due process rights for teachers facing dismissal for poor performance, in effect, the only difference appears to lie in the process leading up to providing a teacher with a dismissal notice. The state's appeals policy seems to still equally apply 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 impact a teacher's right to practice. Arizona should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are only decided by those with educational expertise.  

State response to our analysis

Arizona had no comment on this goal.

How we graded

States need to be explicit that teacher ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.

Most states have laws on their books that address teacher dismissal; however, these laws are much more likely to consider criminal and moral violations than performance. When performance is included, it is usually in a euphemistic term 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.

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 poor performances. 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.

Research rationale

One of the greatest shortcomings of teacher performance appraisals has been school systems' unwillingness and inability to differentiate instructional competency. The New Teacher Project, 2009, "The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness" at http://widgeteffect.org/

See NCTQ, State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies (2011) as well as studies by The New Teacher Project of human resource and dismissal policies in various districts at: http://www.tntp.org/.

For information on the high cost of teacher dismissals, see Steve Brill, "The Rubber Room," New Yorker, August 31, 2009 at: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill.
 
Also, see Scott Reeder, "The Hidden Costs of Tenure: Why are Failing Teachers Getting a Passing Grade?" Small Newspaper Group, 2005 at:http://www.nctq.org/nctq/research/1135269736359.pdf.