States fare poorly in teacher reviews

Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 1:09 AM

WASHINGTON - States are not doing what it takes to keep good teachers and remove bad ones, a national study found.

Only Iowa and New Mexico require any evidence that public school teachers are effective before granting them tenure, according to the review released by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

"States can help districts do much more to ensure that the right teachers stay and the right teachers leave," said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington-based nonpartisan group.

Hiring and firing teachers is done locally in more than 14,000 school districts nationwide.

But state law governs virtually every aspect of teaching, including how and when teachers obtain tenure, which protects teachers from being fired.

Tenure is not a job guarantee. But it is a significant safeguard, preventing teachers from being fired without just cause or due process.

Nearly every state lets public school teachers earn tenure in three years or less, the group said.

In all but Iowa and New Mexico, tenure is virtually automatic, the study said.

States were given letter grades in the study, earning a D-plus on average.

The group gave its highest overall mark, a B-minus, to South Carolina, saying the state does better than any other at allowing ineffective teachers to be fired.

South Carolina requires two annual evaluations of new teachers.

Teachers there who get bad reviews are placed on a plan for improvement.

Only those teachers on probation - not tenured teachers - can be dismissed if they don't improve.

The rest of the states earned C's or worse. Five - Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont - earned F's, as did the District of Columbia.

In all, only 13 states say that teachers who get multiple bad reviews can be fired.

Only about half the states, 26 of them, put teachers on an improvement plan after one bad review.

The National Education Association, the biggest teachers union, said job protections shouldn't be blamed for keeping bad teachers on the job.

"No district-union contract in America states that bad teachers can never be fired from their jobs," said Segun Eubanks, the education association's director of teacher quality. "Yet too often, district-teacher union contracts are blamed for inadequate, ineffective and misused teacher evaluation systems."

Eubanks said teacher firing should be part of a broad evaluation and support system developed in cooperation with teachers, either through unions or teacher groups.

That argument jibes with the study, which said states are sorely lacking when it comes to evaluating teachers.

Only 23 say new teachers must be evaluated more than once a year.

Nine states don't require any evaluation whatsoever of new teachers.

The study says states do little to keep teachers on the job, even raising barriers in some cases.

Also, 20 states insist teachers take additional classes that don't specifically help them improve.

Five states make teachers get advanced degrees to get professionally licensed, despite research indicating those degrees don't necessarily help people teach better.

About 18 states require that teachers with advanced degrees be paid more.

The study also wades into a growing controversy about whether teachers should be held accountable for their students' progress.

It said just 15 states require a look at whether kids are learning when teachers are evaluated.

In addition, the study gave poor ratings to 35 states that don't explicitly connect bonuses or raises to evidence of student achievement.

The NEA and other unions and teacher groups argue there should be multiple measures of teacher performance along with student achievement.

The study also rated 17 states poorly for not offering higher pay or loan forgiveness to teachers who work in high-needs schools or in math and science, subjects where there is a teaching shortage.