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.
Indiana ensures that teacher ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal. A tenured teacher reverts to probationary status if the teacher has received "a rating of ineffective in an evaluation," and can be subject to contract cancellation for a "rating of ineffective in the year immediately following the teacher's initial rating of ineffective."
Although the state has attempted to address issues of due process and dismissal by reverting ineffective teachers to nonprobationary status, Indiana retains policy that does not 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 " immorality, insubordination, justifiable decrease in the number of teaching positions, neglect of duty, conviction of a felony, other good or just cause, or incompetence—which includes an ineffective designation on two consecutive performance evaluations or an ineffective or improvement necessary rating in three years of any five year period."
Indiana has a streamlined appeals process. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher may—within five days—request a private conference with the superintendent, which must occur with 10 days of the request. The superintendent makes a recommendation to the governing body of the school corporation following the conference. An additional meeting—requested within five days of the initial meeting—with the governing body is also permitted. The governing body's decision is final and must be made within 30 days of the request.
Distinguish the process and accompanying due process rights between dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
Indiana is commended for streamlining its dismissal process and for ensuring that ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal. In the future, the state could look to differentiate due process rights between loss of employment and issues with far-reaching consequences—such as felonies—that could permanently impact a teacher's right to practice. It should be clear that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal for any teacher, regardless of tenure status.
Indiana 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.