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. This goal remains unchanged in 2021.
Link to Ineffectiveness: Tennessee explicitly makes teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal. The state defines "inefficiency," which is grounds for dismissal, as "having evaluations demonstrating an overall performance effectiveness level that is 'below expectations' or 'significantly below expectations.'"
In addition, tenured teachers must return to probationary status if they receive two consecutive years of below expectations or significantly below expectations performance ratings. Once on probationary status, if the teacher receives two consecutive evaluations of above expectations or significantly above expectations, then he or she is again eligible for tenure. If tenure is not granted, the teacher "cannot be continued in employment."
Due Process Distinction: Tennessee has attempted to address issues of due process and dismissal by reverting ineffective teachers to nonprobationary status; 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 "incompetence, inefficiency, neglect of duty, unprofessional conduct and insubordination."
Appeals Process: Tennessee requires teachers to revert to probationary status following ineffective evaluation ratings; therefore, multiple appeals are allowed only for teachers dismissed for reasons other than ineffectiveness.
Distinguish between the process and due process rights for dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
Although 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 affect a teacher's right to practice. Tennessee should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are decided only by those with educational expertise.
Tennessee 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, until recently these laws were much more likely to consider criminal and moral violations than performance. While many states have amended their dismissal policy to be more explicit about classroom ineffectiveness, some still retain euphemistic terms 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. Non-probationary 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 teachers for poor performance. 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.