Dismissal for Poor Performance: Tennessee

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 goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2013). Dismissal for Poor Performance: Tennessee results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/TN-Dismissal-for-Poor-Performance-24

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

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 may return to probationary status if they receive two consecutive years of "below expectations" or "significantly below expectations" performance ratings (see Goal 3-D). 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."

Although the state has attempted to address issues of due process and dismissal by reverting ineffective teachers to nonprobationary status, Tennessee retains policy that 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."

In Tennessee, tenured teachers who are terminated may appeal multiple times. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher may request a hearing within 30 days. A hearing officer must be selected within five days, and the hearing must occur within 30 days of the receipt of the request. The teacher may then file an additional appeal with the local board within 10 days of the hearing's conclusion. A third appeal may also be filed within 20 days with the county's chancery court.


Recommendations for Tennessee

Ensure that teachers terminated for poor performance have the opportunity to appeal within a reasonable time frame, and that due process rights are distinguished between dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations.
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 affect a teacher's right to practice. In addition, the state should ensure that the opportunity to appeal occurs only once and only at the district level. The decision should be made only by those with educational expertise.

State response to our analysis

Tenneessee was helpful in providing NCTQ with the facts necessary for this analysis. 

Research rationale

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 too often 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.

Nonprobationary 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.

Dismissal for Poor Performance: Supporting Research

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://tntp.org/ideas-and-innovations.

For information on the high cost of teacher dismissals, see Steven Brill, "The Rubber Room," The New Yorker, August 31, 2009 at: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill;

Also, see S. Reeder, "The Hidden Costs of Tenure: Why are Failing Teachers Getting a Passing Grade?" Small Newspaper Group, 2005 at: http://thehiddencostsoftenure.com.