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.
In Utah, districts can dismiss teachers for unsatisfactory performance. However, it is unclear whether unsatisfactory performance is tied to classroom ineffectiveness or the state's evaluation requirements. Previous statute defined unsatisfactory performance as two unsatisfactory evaluations in the previous three years, but that is no longer on the books.
Once the final decision has been made to terminate based on unsatisfactory performance, all teachers undergo the same appeals process, 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. The district gives 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.
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. Without this specification, Utah's efforts to improve its evaluation framework (see Goal 3-B) may be undermined.
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, the state 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 the process and accompanying due process rights between dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
While 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 to still 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. However, the analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.
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.