Public education is one of the few industries that deny management the ability to evaluate employees annually so that the top performers are rewarded and the ineffective ones dismissed.
Not all employees fit the job for which they were hired. Thus most managers review their employees yearly and provide feedback on strengths and weaknesses. If the employee does not improve within the specified timeframe, most managers can dismiss their employee.
But in the world of education, teachers are on probation for their first three years and then essentially given tenure. Current law and rules make it virtually impossible to remove ineffective teachers – red tape, documentation requirements, and multiple levels of appeal leave principals little ability to manage their staffs.
Learning suffers with poor and ineffective teachers, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A Tennessee study concludes that students with strong teachers for three consecutive years achieve 50 percent more than students with weak teachers. The study also confirms that strong teachers help students erase the achievement gap associated with race, ethnicity, and income within three to five years.
Besides helping students reach their full potential, strong teachers can help students stay in school and reduce dropouts. With only two-thirds of Texas high school students graduating in four years, school principals need every possible tool to keep excellent teachers in the classroom and increase graduation rates.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs suggested at a recent education event in Austin that schools change their management structure, allowing principals to reward effective teachers with higher salaries and get rid of ineffective teachers. He compared the job of a school principal to that of a CEO, saying, “What kind of person can you get to run a small business if you told them, when they came in, they couldn’t get rid of people they thought weren’t any good in the first place?”
SB 1643 by Sen. Florence Shapiro and HB 3423 by Rep. Rob Eissler give school management the power to get rid of poor and ineffective teachers if they receive an “unsatisfactory appraisal for three consecutive years.”
To no one’s surprise, the education lobby opposes these bills. One group even said in testimony before the House Public Education Committee that “there is no evidence of widespread difficulty in getting rid of ineffective teachers.”
No evidence? Since the 2001-2002 school year, Dallas ISD has fired 133 teachers out of 10,643. That is a dismissal rate of 0.24 percent per year. According to information provided by Dallas ISD, 43 teachers were dismissed via involuntary contract non-renewal, 83 by due process dismissal, and seven for cause.
Some suggest the low dismissal numbers mask when teachers are forced to resign or given bad work assignments. In the last five years, Dallas ISD forced 189 teachers to resign to avoid non-renewal of their contract, investigation, or termination. In addition, Dallas ISD lost 94 teachers due to poor work environment or bad job assignment.
When these additional numbers are included, the turnover rate only reaches 0.78 percent per year. It is impossible to know if some of the 94 teachers were forced out or simply didn’t like teaching.
Arlington ISD fired two teachers out of 4,053 over five years – a dismissal rate of 0.01 percent per year. Houston area school districts show a similar pattern.
For frame of reference, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports private industry terminated 16 percent of its workforce in 2006. And the State Auditor’s office reports that 12.2 percent of state employees in Texas were dismissed for cause in 2006.
Why is the percentage of teachers dismissed from Texas school districts only a fraction of the dismissals in other fields? Because school principals are shackled by an overly burdensome documentation and appeal process to terminate ineffective teachers.
Texas lawmakers should give principals the tools they need to encourage excellent teachers to stay in the classroom and remove the ineffective teachers. If we are going to hold school administrators accountable for the performance of their students, they must have the ability to ensure the quality of the teacher in the classroom.
Brooke Dollens Terry is an education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.