Exiting Ineffective 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.
California does not explicitly make teacher ineffectiveness grounds for
dismissal, nor does the state distinguish the due process rights of
teachers dismissed for ineffective performance from those facing other
charges commonly associated with license revocation, such as a felony
and/or morality violations. The process is the same regardless of the
grounds for cancellation, which include immoral or unprofessional
conduct; commission, aiding or advocating the commission of acts of
criminal syndicalism; dishonesty; unsatisfactory performance; evident
unfitness for service; physical or mental condition unfitting him or her
to instruct or associate with children; persistent violation of or
refusal to obey the school laws; conviction of a felony; and alcoholism or other drug abuse
that makes the employee unfit to instruct or associate with children.
Tenured teachers who are terminated have multiple opportunities to appeal. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher may request a hearing with the Commission on Professional Competence, which must take place within 60 days. Teachers may then file an additional appeal with "a court of competent jurisdiction." The time frame of this appeal is not addressed by the state.
In 2014, California passed legislation that created an expedited hearing process for teachers dismissed due to egregious and immoral conduct. This legislation does not address the issue of dismissal for ineffective classroom performance.
Also in 2014, the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles, in its historic decision in Vergara v. California, struck down five provisions of the state's Education Code as unconstitutional, including the provision relating to teacher dismissal. The judge's finding was stayed, pending appeal.
California Education Code 44932, 44934, 44938, 44944 AB 215 (2014)
Specify that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.
Euphemistic terms such as "unsatisfactory performance" are ambiguous at best and may be interpreted as concerning dereliction of duty rather than ineffectiveness. California should explicitly make teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal so that districts do not feel they lack the legal basis for terminating consistently poor performers. The state's creation of an expedited hearing process for teachers dismissed due to egregious and immoral conduct is certainly commendable, but it is equally important to legislate similar policy for ineffective teachers.
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 is reached within 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.
While nonprobationary teachers should have due process for any termination, 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. California should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are decided only by those with educational expertise.
The California Department of Education declined to respond to NCTQ's analysis citing ongoing litigation related to the state's teacher effectiveness policies.
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 explict 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.
Nonprobationary 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.
Dismissal for Poor Performance: Supporting Research
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://tntp.org/ideas-and-innovations.
For information on the high cost of teacher dismissals, see Steven Brill, "The Rubber Room," The New Yorker, August 31, 2009 at: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill.
Also, see S. Reeder, "The Hidden Costs of Tenure: Why are Failing Teachers Getting a Passing Grade?" Small Newspaper Group, 2005 at: http://thehiddencostsoftenure.com.