Dismissal: Massachusetts

2017 General Teacher Prep Programs Policy

Goal

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.

Meets in part

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Link to Ineffectiveness: Massachusetts teachers can be dismissed for failing to meet performance standards as measured by the state's evaluation system. 

Due Process Distinction: Massachusetts 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 "inefficiency, incompetency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming a teacher, insubordination or failure on the part of the teacher to satisfy teacher performance standards."

Appeals Process: Massachusetts's tenured teachers who are terminated may appeal multiple times. After receiving written notice of dismissal, the teacher has 10 days to appeal and review the decision with the principal or superintendent. If a decision is made to dismiss, the teacher may file, within 30 days, an additional appeal with the commissioner for arbitration. The state does not articulate a time frame for this appeal, but the arbitrator's decision must be issued within one month of the completion of the hearing. The arbitrator's decision is subject to judicial review.

For teachers in schools declared underperforming, an expedited hearing with an arbitrator is available, and this must be completed within 20 days of the teacher's receipt of notice of dismissal. The state does not articulate whether an appeal is possible.

Citation

Recommendations for Massachusetts

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

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that while it is accurate that the dismissal statute does not draw a distinction between dismissal for performance and for other causes, the suspension statute (c.71 sec 42D) does allow for immediate suspension (without the usual notice period) for "good cause," which presumably includes any behavior that calls student safety into question.

Massachusetts also asserted that it is important to note that when a school is declared underperforming or chronically underperforming, the standard the district must meet to uphold a dismissal at arbitration is "good cause" rather than "just cause."

How we graded

9D: Dismissal

  • Evidence of Effectiveness: The state should articulate that teachers may be dismissed for ineffective classroom performance. Any teacher who receives two consecutive, summative ratings of ineffective, or two such ratings within five years, should be formally eligible for dismissal, regardless of tenure status.
  • Appeals Process: A teacher who is terminated for poor performance should have the opportunity to appeal only once. The state should require that the appeals process occurs within a reasonable time frame.
  • Due Process: The state should ensure that there is a clear distinction between the appeals process and accompanying due process rights for teachers dismissed for ineffective classroom performance and those dismissed, or are facing license revocation, for felony, morality violations, or dereliction of duties.
Evidence of Effectiveness
One-half of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if it articulates that teachers may be dismissed for ineffective classroom performance regardless of tenure status.
Appeals Process
One-quarter of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if it requires the appeals process for teachers facing dismissal for ineffective classroom performance to occur within a reasonable time frame.
Due Process
One-quarter of the total goal score is earned based on the following:

  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if there is a clear distinction between the appeals process and accompanying due process rights for teachers dismissed for ineffective classroom performance and those dismissed for felony, morality violations, or dereliction of duties.

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, 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.[1]

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.[2] Teachers are not well served by such processes either, as they are entitled to final resolution quickly.[3]

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.


[1] One of the greatest shortcomings of teacher performance appraisals has been school systems' unwillingness and inability to differentiate instructional competency. See: Weisberg, D., Sexton, S., Mulhern, J., & Keeling, D. (2009). The widget effect: Our national failure to acknowledge and act on differences in teacher effectiveness. The New Teacher Project. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED515656.pdf&sa=D&ust=1508185360843000&usg=AFQjCNG_FOzv9usICvWem-xNf0Ny71KcMg
[2] For information on the high cost of teacher dismissals, see: Brill, S. (2009). The rubber room: The battle over New York City's worst teachers. The New Yorker, 85(26), 31. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill; Also, see: Small Newspaper Group. (2005). The hidden costs of tenure: Why are failing teachers getting a passing grade? Retrieved from http://thehiddencostsoftenure.com
[3] National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). State of the states: Trends and early lessons on teacher evaluation and effectiveness policies. Retrieved from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/State_of_the_States_Teacher_Evaluation_and_Effectiveness_Policies_NCTQ_Report; Refer also to studies by The New Teacher Project of human resource and dismissal policies in various districts at: https://tntp.org/publications/scroll/school-staffing-employment-policy