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Help for Chronically Ineffective Teachers

It is important to give teachers feedback on their weaknesses and an opportunity to improve their practice before making a decision about dismissal.

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It is important to give teachers feedback on their weaknesses and an opportunity to improve their practice before making a decision about dismissal. Tenured teachers also have a legal right to this notification and sometimes remediation as well. It is possible that there are teachers who are chronically ineffective because they weren’t given effective training or models of effective instructional practice early in their career.

A number of districts have developed peer assistance and review programs, or PAR, that hire expert teachers to mentor, assist, and evaluate either new or struggling teachers, or both, and also to recommend teachers for dismissal who are unable to improve. A recent study led by Susan Moore Johnson at Harvard University’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers analyzed the features of programs in seven districts. Superintendents and union leaders interviewed for the study were very positive about the programs and felt they “improve instruction, increase teacher professionalism, change the culture of teaching, and improve labor-management relations.”

It is also important to ensure that teachers who need help are identified for participation in PAR programs. Very few teachers participate in many of the peer assistance programs across the country. Generally, principals must identify the teachers for participation or support the referral, and some principals are reluctant to be involved with PAR for a variety of reasons. They may want to avoid conflict, may not be taking sufficient time to conduct the kinds of in-depth evaluations that are needed to identify teachers, or they may want to be the sole instructional leader in the school. In any case, PAR programs can’t be successful if principals aren’t on board.

Finally, if peer assistance programs are collaboratively implemented with the local union and dismissal is warranted, the union should agree not to contest the dismissal. In many of the PAR programs in operation union representatives do not contest dismissals for teachers who have participated because the teacher has no procedural grounds for appeal. In the few cases where a teacher requests a hearing, it should be very short, perhaps a day. The appeal process should not have to rehash the entire case of whether the teacher is ineffective, given the documentation and support process provided by the peer review program.

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