Dismissal for Poor Performance: Pennsylvania

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.

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Dismissal for Poor Performance: Pennsylvania results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/PA-Dismissal-for-Poor-Performance-10

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

In Pennsylvania, tenured teachers who are terminated have multiple opportunities to appeal. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher may request a hearing within 30 days. The hearing officer must render a decision within 60 days after the hearing's conclusion. This decision may be appealed to the Pennsylvania Professional Standards and Practices Commission, which must issue its decision within 45 days.

Pennsylvania does not explicitly make teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal, nor does the state 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. In fact, Pennsylvania does not articulate specific grounds for termination of teachers' contracts.


Recommendations for Pennsylvania

Specify that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.
Pennsylvania should explicitly make teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal so that districts do not feel they lack the legal basis for terminating consistently poor performers.

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, Pennsylvania 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. 

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. Pennsylvania should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are only decided by those with educational expertise.  

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania asserted that "pursuant to statute, tenured teachers can only be dismissed for: immorality; incompetency; unsatisfactory teaching performance based on two consecutive ratings of the employee's teaching performance that are to include classroom observations, not less than four months apart, in which the employee's teaching performance is unsatisfactory; intemperance; cruelty; persistent negligence in the performance of duties; willful neglect of duties; physical or mental disability documented by competent medical evidence; advocation of or participation in un-American or subversive doctrines; conviction of a felony or acceptance of a guilty plea or nolo contendere; persistent and willful violation of or failure to comply with school laws of this Commonwealth (including official directives and established policy of the board of directors."

The state added that "if a tenured teacher is recommended for dismissal, the teacher may request an arbitration hearing or a hearing before the school board. If, after a school board hearing the teacher is dismissed, the teacher can appeal to the Secretary within 30 days of receiving notice of the board's decision.  There is no time period within which the Secretary must issue a decision. The Secretary's decision can be appealed to Commonwealth Court.

Last word

NCTQ recognizes that the language the state cites related to dismissal for unsatisfactory teaching performance does in fact exist, but it is not accessible in any of the locations where such language related to a state's dismissal policy for teachers is typically found (i.e., Department of Education's website, the state legislature's website and the state's code). NCTQ was only able to uncover such language on a third-party site. Without this policy being clear and accessible on an official website or other places users might access the code, it seems highly unlikely that districts are using this language to inform their dismissal policies. 

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.