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 was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Link to Ineffectiveness: Massachusetts teachers can be dismissed for failing to meet performance standards as measured by the state's evaluation system.
Due Process Distinction: Massachusetts 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 "inefficiency, incompetency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming a teacher, insubordination or failure on the part of the teacher to satisfy teacher performance standards."
Appeals Process: Massachusetts's tenured teachers who are terminated may appeal multiple times. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher has 10 days to appeal and review the decision with the principal or superintendent. If a decision is made to dismiss, the teacher may file, within 30 days, an additional appeal with the commissioner for arbitration. The state does not articulate a time frame for this appeal, but the arbitrator's decision must be issued within one month of the completion of the hearing. The arbitrator's decision is subject to judicial review.
For teachers in schools declared underperforming, an expedited hearing with an arbitrator is available, and this must be completed within 20 days of the teacher's receipt of notice of dismissal. The state does not articulate whether an appeal is possible.
General Law of Massachusetts, Title XII, Chapter 71, Section 42; Section 38; Chapter 69, Section 1J
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, Massachusetts 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.
Although 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. Massachusetts should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are decided only by those with educational expertise.
Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that while it is accurate that the dismissal statute does not draw a distinction between dismissal for performance and for other causes, the suspension statute (c.71 sec 42D) does allow for immediate suspension (without the usual notice period) for "good cause," which presumably includes any behavior that calls student safety into question.
Massachusetts also asserted that it is important to note that when a school is declared underperforming or chronically underperforming, the standard the district must meet to uphold a dismissal at arbitration is "good cause" rather than "just cause."
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.