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.
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, 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 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 is 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 non-probationary 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.
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.