Devil in the Details: An Analysis of State Teacher Dismissal Laws

Saba Bireda
Center for American Progress
June 2010 

Momentum is building to reform teacher dismissal policies. Federal and state policymakers alike are calling for changes to K-12 education’s highly complex and costly dismissal procedures, especially as school districts face looming budget cuts.

In Devil in the Details, author Saba Bireda takes an in-depth look at all fifty states’ dismissal policies, and provides several recommendations for improvement. Dismissal procedures were originally established to protect teachers from unfair management decisions. However, due to the lack of sound policies informing the selection, evaluation, and development of teachers, the dismissal hearing is often the first time that performance issues are seriously discussed.

The report describes numerous problems that make the dismissal process cumbersome and difficult to manage. Among the most astonishing is that the same hearing procedures are used for all teachers regardless of the reason for dismissal. This means that teachers being accused of incompetence in the classroom go through identical dismissal procedures as though that have violated criminal laws. After a thorough description of the problems surrounding current teacher dismissal policies, the report lays out five recommendations for improvement. Among these is one especially critical for Ohio: the need to spell out what defines “ineffective” classroom performance. In particular, the report suggests multiple measures, including student achievement on standardized tests, to inform how we measure classroom effectiveness.

This report is important. Currently, tenured teachers are protected from dismissal except in rare cases. Worse, teacher evaluation systems do not attempt to define “effectiveness” or “ineffectiveness,” or tie tenure and dismissal to classroom performance. As Ohio moves forward with its new four-tier teacher licensure system (and its Race to the Top plan, should it win), the state should spell out what constitutes effective teaching. This will not only help to reduce the ambiguity, time, and cost involved in dismissal processes, but will align the teacher evaluation system with how teachers are retained, developed, and dismissed.

Read the report here.

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