Firing underperforming veteran teachers is 'far harder' than it should be, study claims

'Tenure is providing too much protection for poor teachers in districts across America - providing a poor deal for students, taxpayers and the profession as a whole'

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Firing poorly performing veteran teachers in America remains too difficult despite a raft of reforms designed to speed up the process, a study has concluded.

In most school districts, tenure protects ineffective teachers from being sacked even after a series of poor evaluations, according to the Thomas Fordham Institute think-tank.

When action is taken, it can take many years to remove poor teachers, with some districts mandating a minimum five-year process, a new analysis states.

“Countless studies have demonstrated that teacher quality is the most important school-based determinant of student learning and that removing ineffective teachers from the classroom could greatly benefit students,” the report says.

But after examining the process for removing poorly performing veterans in 25 diverse districts across the U.S. it finds that little is being done to tackle underperformance.

“Our analysis yields bleak takeaways. Most states continue to confer lifetime tenure on teachers, weak teachers still take years to dismiss if they achieve tenured status, and any attempt to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher remains vulnerable to challenge at every stage in the process,” it says.

“Consequently, in most districts and schools, dismissing an ineffective veteran teacher remains far harder than is healthy for children, schools, taxpayers—and the teaching profession itself.”

There is no data that draws together information on teacher dismissals, so researchers examined state and district procedures for removing school staff. They then drew up a 10-point scale to judge how easy it to fire underperformers.

Table showing how difficult to fire teachers

The researchers point to moves made by then education secretary Arne Duncan and the Race to the Top agenda, which was supposed to make it easier for reformers to remove bad teachers.

States were also given an incentive to introduce teacher evaluations unders No Child Left Behind.

But according to the report little action followed, despite the “expenditure of vast political capital, acrimonious battes with unins and their friends, and much feat and loathing on the part of teachers, including the good ones.

There are three areas that make it difficult to remove poor teachers, the researchers claim: the protection offered by tenure; protracted timescales after action is started to remove teachers; and sackings being open to challenge in many areas.

The researchers say they do not “major housecleaning” when it comes to teachers – but instead want action to make it easier to remove the worst-performing 5 per cent after all avenues of training and support have been exhausted.

The report comes as teachers and authorities in New York City have been involved in a dispute over whether the marks that third to eighth graders score on standardized tests should count towards teacher evaluations.

Instead of test scores, agreement has been reached that children’s work during the year and the progress they make will be included in evaluations, the New York Times reported yesterday.

Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY, an group that supports charter schools, told the paper the deal does not provide an objective way to measure how students perform.

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