ERIC Identifier: ED259448
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Ellis, Thomas I.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Dismissing Incompetent Teachers. ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management: ERIC Digest, Number Five.
Dismissing incompetent tenured teachers is difficult and time-consuming.
Contrary to popular opinion, however, it is not impossible.
HOW PERVASIVE IS TEACHER INCOMPETENCE?
According to surveys of parents and administrators, incompetence in the
teaching profession has become a major concern (Bridges 1984). On one occasion
45 percent of polled public school parents felt that some teachers in the local
schools should be fired. In another survey school administrators estimated that
5 to 15 percent of their teachers performed unsatisfactorily. Yet dismissal of
tenured teachers for incompetence is still relatively rare.
WHAT IS TENURE?
Tenure originated around the turn of the century to protect teachers from
arbitrary dismissals by school boards. However, tenure is not a lifetime
contract that guarantees teachers permanent employment. Tenure laws were
intended to regulate, rather than prevent, the dismissal of incompetent
WHAT CONSTITUTES INCOMPETENCE?
Courts have not been inclined to specify standards for evaluating teacher
competence. They have, however, defined four broad areas in which unsatisfactory
performance might be grounds for dismissal: subject matter, teaching methods,
effects on pupils, and personal attitudes.
Most dismissal cases of tenured teachers involve multiple sources of failure
in addition to other legal grounds for dismissal, such as neglect of duty,
unbecoming conduct, and other good and just cause. Dismissal rarely stems from a
single egregious error; rather, termination is most often based on a persistent
pattern of mistakes and failures.
HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO DISMISS AN INCOMPETENT TEACHER?
Regardless of the nature of the teacher's failure, the success of a school
board that attempts to dismiss a tenured teacher is by no means assured.
The frequency with which dismissal decisions are upheld by an impartial third
party partly depends on the type of adjudicator--commission on professional
competence, court judge, or hearing officer.
In 1982, a California Commission on Professional Competence upheld seven out
of nine dismissal cases. Court judges are less supportive, upholding roughly
two-thirds of the cases brought before them. Hearing officers render the least
favorable decisions, sustaining school board actions in only 37 percent of their
The key to successfully dismissing a teacher is to provide thorough
documentation of the teacher's shortcomings. Principals should put everything in
writing: full, detailed records of a teacher's performance; evidence of the
specific times and dates of key incidents; and direct, eyewitness reports from
WHAT STEPS SHOULD BE FOLLOWED IN IDENTIFYING AND DISMISSING INCOMPETENT
A first step is for administrators to adopt and publish reasonable criteria
for teacher performance. Not only do these criteria encourage teachers to excel,
but failure to meet such criteria may provide a legal basis for dismissal. The
second step is for administrators to develop a process for determining whether a
teacher has adequately satisfied the criteria.
After defining a teacher's problems according to specific standards of
acceptable performance, principals should work with the teacher to establish
objectives and strategies for improving the teacher's performance. Future
teaching behavior should be monitored carefully and measured against these
objectives using observation, regularly scheduled evaluations, and continuing
feedback to the teacher.
WHAT IF REMEDIATION FAILS?
Success in dismissing incompetent teachers then depends entirely on adequate
preparation for hearings and scrupulous respect for due process. Teachers should
be duly notified of a recommendation for termination.
The necessary components of a fair hearing, as delineated by state statutes,
include (1) a statement of charges and the materials on which they are based;
(2) a timely, written notice telling the date, time, and place of the hearing;
(3) an opportunity to be represented by counsel and to call witnesses on the
teacher's behalf; (4) an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses; (5) a written
decision containing specific findings; and (6) the right to appeal.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bridges, Edwin M., with Barry Groves. MANAGING THE INCOMPETENT TEACHER.
Eugene, OR: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management and Stanford, CA:
Institute for Research on Educational Finance and Governance, 1984.
Dolgin, Ann B. "Two Types of Due Process: The Role of Supervision in Teacher
Dismissal Cases." NASSP BULLETIN 65 (February 1981):17-21.
Erickson, Ralph. "How Firm Are Teacher Tenure Laws?" KAPPA DELTA PI RECORD 17
Frels, Kelly, and Timothy T. Cooper. A DOCUMENTATION SYSTEM FOR TEACHER
IMPROVEMENT OR TERMINATION: PRACTICAL CONCISE GUIDE FOR LEGAL CONSIDERATION IN
TEACHER EVALUATION. NOLPE Mini-Monograph. Topeka, KS: National Organization on
Legal Problems of Education, 1982. ED 228 725.
Larson, David H. "Dismissing Incompetent Staff." SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR 40
(February 1983):28, 35, 37.
MacNaughton, Robert, and Victor J. Ross. "With Preparation, You Can Clear the
Teacher Termination Hurdles." AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARDS JOURNAL 169 (April
Munnelly, Robert J. "What You Should Know When Your Staff Asks You for a
Teacher Dismissal Hearing." AMERICAN SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL 170 (May 1983):22, 26.
Peterson, Donovan. "Legal and Ethical Issues of Teacher Evaluation: A
Research-Based Approach." EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH QUARTERLY 7 (Winter 1983):6-16.
Peterson, Jerry D. "Teacher Termination Hearings: The ABCs of Survival."
NASSP BULLETIN 66 (December 1982):83-89.