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.
Illinois specifically identifies classroom ineffectiveness as grounds for dismissal. For teachers placed on remediation plans for poor performance who receive a subsequent unsatisfactory performance rating within three years, "the school district may forego remediation and seek dismissal."
The state also distinguishes 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.
For teachers that have received an unsatisfactory performance evaluation and failed to complete a remediation with a rating of proficient or better, there is an "optional alternative evaluative dismissal process." The teacher must receive written notice of dismissal within 30 days of the final remediation evaluation. Each party has two days to present evidence at a hearing before a hearing officer. The hearing officer must have completed a prequalification program designed for performance evaluators, which involves rigorous training and "an independent observer's determination that the evaluator's ratings properly align to the requirements established by the State Board." The hearing officer must issue "findings of fact and recommendation" within 30 days of the hearing's close to the State Board of Education, which then issues a decision within 45 days. An additional appeal to the appellate court—for judicial review—is also permitted within 35 days. The cost of this appeal is borne by the teacher.
105 ILCS 5/24-16.5 and 105 ILCS 5/24A-5(2)m
Ensure that the appeals process occurs within a reasonable time frame, and that due process rights are distinguished between dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
Illinois is commended for differentiating due process rights between loss of employment and issues with far-reaching consequences that could permanently affect a teacher's right to practice through its new "optional alternative evaluative dismissal process." However, by making this dismissal process "optional" and an "alternative," districts have the potential to opt out of this more expedient process. In addition, Illinois should ensure that the opportunity to appeal occurs only once and only at the district level.
Illinois 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, these laws are much more likely to consider criminal and moral violations than performance. When performance is included, it is too often 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.
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.