Dismissal for Poor Performance: Michigan

2011 Exiting Ineffective 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.

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Dismissal for Poor Performance: Michigan results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MI-Dismissal-for-Poor-Performance-10

Analysis of Michigan's policies

New legislation in Michigan identifies classroom ineffectiveness as grounds for dismissal. "If a teacher is rated as ineffective on three consecutive annual year-end evaluations," the district shall dismiss the teacher. Nonprobationary teachers have the opportunity to request a review of the evaluation and rating within 20 days of being informed of the rating. Only two reviews can be requested every three school years.

In Michigan, tenured teachers who are terminated may appeal multiple times. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher has 20 days to file the first appeal with the tenure commission; the hearing must be concluded within 75 days. The teacher may then file an additional appeal with the court of appeals within 20 days. The state does not specify a time frame for this appeal.


Recommendations for Michigan

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 and only at the district level. It is in the best interest of both the teacher and the district that a conclusion be reached within a reasonable time frame.

State response to our analysis

Michigan disagreed with the characterization that a tenured teacher "may appeal multiple times."  The state asserted that teachers have one appeal to the state tenure commission, which may be appealed to the courts. Michigan has streamlined the appeal process by bypassing the circuit court and making the appeal directly to the court of appeals. That appeal is "on leave granted," meaning that the court of appeals does not have to take the appeal. In fact, the state added, the court often denies leave to appeal in most tenure cases. In any case, it is one appeal with a right of review by the court, which is standard practice in any administrative appeal.

The state also asserted that probationary teachers are "at-will" employees. The courts have held that tenure in Michigan is a property right requiring due process before it can be taken away. Probationary teachers have not acquired this property right entitling them to due process protections. In addition, the state noted that cases do not "drag on for years" as under the recent legislation there are strict time lines at the administrative level and, in the majority of cases, the court of appeals denies leave. If a tenured teacher files an appeal, the determination occurs at the state level, not the district level—although the district begins the process by filing charges against a teacher. The decision to have the state, and not the local district, make the determination was decided by both school districts and teachers to be the best and most efficient way to handle tenure appeals. (Prior to 1993, the local board held tenure hearings.)

Last word

Michigan's statute clearly allows for an appeal to the tenure commission as well as an additional appeal to the court of appeals. This second appeal could be an appeal of the commission's decision, not an appeal for violations of due process. And while Michigan has a clear timeline for the appeals process with its tenure commission, by allowing an appeal to go to the court, the state has no assurance that a decision will be made in a timely manner.

How we graded

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 usually 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.

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.

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.