Tenure: Massachusetts

Identifying Effective Teachers Policy


The state should require that tenure decisions are based on evidence of teacher effectiveness.

Meets goal in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Tenure: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MA-Tenure-22

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Massachusetts could do more to connect tenure decisions to evidence of teacher effectiveness.

The state articulates a three-year probationary period, after which a teacher is eligible for nonprobationary status. Teachers must achieve ratings of proficient or exemplary on each Performance Standard and on the overall evaluation. A principal considering an employment decision leading to professional teacher status for any educator who does not meet these criteria must confer with the superintendent. The principal's decision is subject to review and approval by the superintendent. 

Because Massachusetts's teacher evaluation ratings are not centered primarily on evidence of student learning (see Goal 3-B), basing tenure decisions on these evaluation ratings is a step in the right direction toward ensuring that classroom effectiveness is considered, but it does not ensure that it is the preponderant criterion.


Recommendations for Massachusetts

Ensure that evidence of effectiveness is the preponderant criterion in tenure decisions. 
Massachusetts should make evidence of effectiveness the most significant factor when determining this leap in professional standing.

Require a longer probationary period. 
Massachusetts should extend its probationary period, ideally to five years. This would allow sufficient time to collect data that adequately reflect teacher performance. 

Reconsider waiver of effectiveness requirements at principal request.

It is not unreasonable that Massachusetts wants to build some principal discretion into its tenure process. But rather than waive the effectiveness requirements, the state should consider allowing principals to extend the probationary period for teachers they think warrant further time to develop. This would prevent the dismissal of probationary teachers against a principal's judgment while still holding all teachers to the state's standards of effective performance.  

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

Research rationale

Tenure should be a significant and consequential milestone in a teacher's career.

The decision to give teachers tenure (or permanent status) is usually made automatically, with little thought, deliberation or consideration of actual evidence. State policy should reflect the fact that initial certification is temporary and probationary, and that tenure is intended to be a significant reward for teachers who have consistently shown effectiveness and commitment. Tenure and advanced certification are not rights implied by the conferring of an initial teaching certificate. No other profession, including higher education, offers practitioners tenure after only a few years of working in the field.

States should also ensure that evidence of effectiveness is the preponderant (but not the only) criterion for making tenure decisions. Most states confer tenure at a point that is too early for the collection of sufficient and adequate data that reflect teacher performance. Ideally, states would accumulate such data for five years. This robust data set would prevent effective teachers from being unfairly denied tenure based on too little data and ineffective teachers from being granted tenure.

Tenure: Supporting Research

Numerous studies illustrate how difficult and uncommon the process is of dismissing tenured teachers for poor performance. These studies underscore the need for an extended probationary period that would allow teachers to demonstrate their capability to promote student performance.

For evidence on the potential of eliminating automatic tenure, articulating a process for granting tenure, and using evidence of effectiveness as criteria for tenure see D. Goldhaber and M. Hansen, "Assessing the Potential of Using Value-Added Estimates of Teacher Job Performance for Making Tenure Decisions." Calder Institute, February 2010, Working Paper 31.  Goldhaber and Hansen conclude that if districts ensured that the bottom performing 25 percent of all teachers up for tenure each year did not earn it, approximately 13 percent more than current levels, student achievement could be significantly improved. By routinely denying tenure to the bottom 25 percent of eligible teachers, the impact on student achievement would be equivalent to reducing class size across-the-board by 5 students a class.

For additional evidence see R. Gordon, T. Kane, and D. Staiger, "Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job," The Hamilton Project Discussion Paper, The Brookings Institute, April 2006.