The state should require that tenure decisions are based on evidence of teacher effectiveness.
Oklahoma is on the right track in connecting tenure decisions to evidence of teacher effectiveness.
The state requires that career teachers have one of the following: a rating of superior as measured by the Oklahoma Teacher and Leader Effectiveness Evaluation System for two of three years, with no rating below effective; or an average rating of at least effective for a four-year period, with a rating of at least effective for the last two years.
Because Oklahoma's teacher evaluation ratings are centered primarily on evidence of student learning (see Goal 3-B), basing tenure decisions on these evaluation ratings ensures that classroom effectiveness is appropriately considered.
However, the state has created a loophole by essentially waiving these requirements and allowing the principal of a school to petition for career-teacher status, absent the requirements stated above.
Ensure that the probationary period is adequate.
To ensure that tenure decisions are based on adequate assessment and sufficient evidence of teacher effectiveness in the classroom, Oklahoma should consider extending the time before teachers can earn tenure, making certain that probationary teachers earn at least three consecutive effective ratings prior to the award of tenure.
Reconsider waiver of effectiveness requirements at principal request.
It is not unreasonable that Oklahoma 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.
Oklahoma recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
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.