Dismissal for Poor Performance: Massachusetts

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: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MA-Dismissal-for-Poor-Performance-10

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

In Massachusetts, a teacher can be dismissed for failing to meet performance standards as measured by the state's new evaluation system.

However, the state 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."

In addition, 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, within 30 days, the teacher may file 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, which 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.

Citation

Recommendations for Massachusetts

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, as 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 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 impact a teacher's right to practice. Massachusetts should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are only decided by those with educational expertise.  

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state also pointed out that arbitrators assigned with determining whether the district has proven adequate grounds for dismissal are required to consider the best interests of the pupils in the district and the need for elevation of performance standards. 

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.