2017 Retaining Effective 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. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Link to Ineffectiveness: Utah districts can dismiss teachers for unsatisfactory performance. However, unsatisfactory performance is not explicitly tied to classroom ineffectiveness or the state's evaluation requirements.
Due Process Distinction: Utah requires that once the final decision has been made to terminate based on unsatisfactory performance, the same appeals process applies to all teachers, regardless of whether they are being dismissed for poor performance or for other charges commonly associated with license revocation, such as a felony and/or morality violations.
Appeals Process: Utah requires districts to give the teacher 30 days' notice of dismissal. The teacher has 15 days to request a hearing after receipt of the dismissal letter. After the request for a hearing, there are no timelines specified by the state for resolution of the dismissal proceedings.
Utah Code 53A-8a-102; 502; 503 R277-531-3
Specify that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.
Utah leaves it up to districts to develop definitions of unsatisfactory performance and fails to ensure that teachers who receive a certain number of ineffective evaluation ratings are eligible for dismissal. The state should consider establishing at least some marker for what defines inadequacy in the classroom 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 remain open over multiple years drain resources from school districts and disincentivize districts from terminating poor performers. Therefore, Utah 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 is reached within a reasonable time frame.
Distinguish between the process and accompanying due process rights for dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
Although Utah has taken steps to differentiate due process rights for teachers facing dismissal for poor performance, in effect, the only difference appears to lie in the process leading up to providing a teacher with a dismissal notice. The state's appeals policy seems still to apply equally apply to all teachers. Nonprobationary teachers should have due process for any termination, but 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. Utah should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are decided only by those with educational expertise.
Utah 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.