July 13, 2011

Should Teachers Get Grades, Too?

Tennessee has recently taken an important step toward ensuring that its public schools provide a quality education by setting up a system for grading teachers. Missouri should follow suit and go one step further, streamlining teacher termination policies.

Starting this fall, all public school teachers in the state of Tennessee will be receiving yearly grades, which will play a role in decisions for termination as well as tenure attainment.  Half of the evaluation will come from principal observations, with the remainder based on student academic performance and other factors.  The new system will also require that all teachers, tenured or not, be evaluated each and every year.

Collecting more detailed data on teachers, and therefore school performance, will help to bring much needed competition to the public school system.  Given access to this information, concerned parents will be able to make better decisions as to where their children should attend school.  With renewed pressure to perform, however, schools and districts will need to be able to remove teachers found to be ineffective.

Here in Missouri, even for schools or districts that choose to implement an evaluation system, the removal of bad teachers is a slow and cumbersome process. Missouri law sets out detailed procedures that must be followed in terminating an under-performing teacher.  These include a list of the only acceptable reasons for termination, in addition to a requirement for a thirty-day warning period prior to the hearing. In the event of a successful termination, Missouri teachers can still appeal to the district court, possibly reversing the decision.

Given the power to more easily terminate bad teachers along with an effective evaluation process, principals and superintendents could much more successfully manage their schools and districts.   Furthermore, if school administrators had the ability to fire poor teachers, less education spending would be wasted on prolonging the careers of bad teachers held within the schools by the promises of pension plans and tenure agreements.

Public school districts’ primary concern should be providing a quality education to students. In fact, this quotation is found in many district’s policies:

“Because the school district exists for the students, and the main obligation of the Board of Education is to provide an education for the district’s students, and not to provide employment, the Board will, through procedures carried out by the administration, determine which employees can best serve the needs of the students.”

Employing ineffective teachers until they reach retirement age hurts every student the teacher fails to teach. Tennessee has given us a strong example to follow, but to see true success here in Missouri, school administrators should be given the power to more easily remove bad teachers for the sake of both our tax dollars and the students’ education. The legislature cannot possibly foresee every situation and prepare for it accordingly.  Control over the system should be decentralized and placed in the hands of those that live and work within it every day.

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