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The Power to Lead:

By James V. Shuls and Kacie Barnes

Of all the decisions an employer must make, none may be as important as staffing. This does not just include who they hire, but also who they fire. An effective leader should be able to identify those who are not performing at an acceptable level, work with that individual to help them improve, and terminate him or her when necessary. But what if state law does not provide such flexibility? What if the employer is required to give the employee 90 working days to improve before finally being able to dismiss the employee and replace him or her with a higher-quality employee? That type of regulation does not seem optimal for a business success, but it is exactly the position in which Missouri school leaders

find themselves. In many instances, these restrictions limit the power principals and superintendents have to effectively lead their schools. Missouri statutes are prescriptive about how school leaders must handle teacher contracts and dismissals, and the debate surrounding these state mandates can become very heated. On one side, opponents of teacher tenure say it is nearly impossible to remove a tenured teacher based on his or her performance in the classroom. To the contrary, supporters of teacher tenure suggest that it is easy to remove tenured teachers; it just has to be accomplished according to the guidelines in the state statutes. They suggest these guidelines are needed because they limit potential



We conclude that current policies do hamstring the ability of principals and superintendents to lead their schools.

abuses of power from principals, superintendents, or school board members who seek to capriciously target teachers for dismissal. We suspected that the reality is actually somewhere in the middle, between impossible and simply a matter of following the rules. To explore this further, we contacted the group of individuals we thought should know the most about this topic: public school superintendents. This essay presents the results of our superintendent survey on teacher tenure. Before we display the survey results, we explain why this issue is important because teacher tenure has implications for teacher quality. After a brief examination of the teacher quality literature, we describe the regulations currently in Missouri statutes. These regulations detail the steps a school leader must take to remove a lowperforming teacher. Next, we present the data collected from a survey of 192 Missouri public school superintendents. As we suspected, the data make it evident that our initial hypothesis is true, removing a tenured teacher may not be a Herculean task, but it is also not a walk in the park. We conclude that current policies do hamstring the ability of principals and superintendents to lead their schools. From this perspective, we offer some policy recommendations that will improve school leaders ability to manage their teacher workforce.

Missouri, the single most important factor in the classroom is the quality of the person standing at the front of the classroom.1 On this matter, the president is absolutely correct. He expanded on this point in his 2012 State of the Union address: We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.2 The president was citing one of the most important and impressive studies of teacher effectiveness, in which researchers were able to link tax records to student achievement of more than 2.5 million children.3 The authors found significant relationships between a teachers ability to improve student achievement and his or her students outcomes later in life. Students with highly effective teachers were more likely to attend college, attend higher-ranked colleges, earn higher salaries, live in higher [socioeconomic status] neighborhoods, and save for retirement.4 The researchers the president cited are not the only ones to note the importance of effective instruction. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that teachers can have an incredible impact on students.5 Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has documented that the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is as much as a years worth of learning.6 If the average teacher teaches students a years worth of information, based on Hanusheks analysis, a good teacher can teach a year and a half worth, while a bad teacher imparts only half of a year worth of learning.7


As President Barack Obama said in a town hall meeting right here in

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As a result, a student in a lowperforming teachers classroom will learn a full year less worth of material than his or her counterparts in a highperforming teachers classroom. If a student happens to be so unfortunate as to have a low-performing teacher two years in a row, he or she would be an entire grade level behind his or her average classmate. Because we know teachers can have a tremendous impact on student learning, it makes sense that policymakers and school leaders would seek ways to improve teacher quality. There are a number of ways to improve the quality of the average teacher. One potential method is to evaluate teachers and remove the lowest-performing ones. By simply removing the worst teachers, the average quality increases. In fact, Hanushek suggests that replacing the bottom 5 percent of teachers with a teacher of just average quality could improve our educational system to the level of the highest-performing countries in the world.8 Two major obstacles make this type of policy for improving teacher quality difficult. First, administrators traditionally have not done a good job of evaluating teacher performance. In a notable education study called The Widget Effect, the authors found that principals give good ratings to almost all of their teachers.9 When districts used a binary scale of satisfactory and unsatisfactory, 99 percent of teachers were given a satisfactory rating. In districts that used a more nuanced scale, 94 percent received one of the top two rankings, while less than

1 percent of teachers were marked unsatisfactory.10 Evaluations of teacher performance are beginning to change through political pressure. This has led many states or school districts to begin using student achievement data in teacher evaluations. This makes sense; as Gary Ritter and James Shuls wrote, If student learning is the fundamental goal of educators, then any evaluation or rating of teachers should be based, in large part, on student learning.11 Though it is not clear exactly how much of a teachers evaluation should be based on student achievement, it is clear that we must do a better job of identifying high-performing and lowperforming teachers. The second major obstacle to removing ineffective teachers is tenure law. Though it is certainly possible to remove an ineffective teacher based on his or her performance in the classroom, these laws make it cumbersome.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek has documented that the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is as much as a years worth of learning.


Like all other employees, fair dismissal laws protect Missouri teachers. In addition to the normal laws that protect all workers from discrimination and the like, there are specific state laws that provide teachers even more protection. These regulations mandate a process to remove a teacher from the classroom based on his or her performance. The laws are especially difficult to navigate for tenured teachers, but are also quite restrictive for terminating probationary teachers within their contract period.


Probationary Teachers
In Missouri, new teachers probationary teachers sign a one-year contract that is renewed annually. If the teacher is not re-hired for the next school year, it is called a non-renewal of the contract. Upon receiving his or her fifth consecutive contract from a single school district, the contract then becomes permanent, or tenured. State statute says these permanent contracts shall be known as an indefinite contract and shall continue in effect for an indefinite period12 The current statutes require Missouri school districts to give a probationary teacher a written notice and 90 days to improve before they can fire that teacher while they are under contract.13 This system makes it difficult to remove an ineffective probationary teacher within a single year.14 This may not be a tremendous problem, because districts may not even consider removing a teacher for ineffectiveness in the middle of a school year. They may simply wish to not retain that teacher for the following year, which is a fairly easy process. The district must simply notify the teacher by April 15 that they will not be offered a contract for the following year. One problem with this situation is that districts must notify teachers well before the end of the school year. This, of course, does not help administrators who identify a teacher as ineffective at some point after April 15. We understand there are many methods administrators could use to evaluate the performance of new teachers. Nevertheless, the April 15 deadline

means the district has to commit to the probationary teacher before his/her first year is completed and before they know how well the students in the teachers class perform on the state tests.15

Tenured Teachers
Once a teacher becomes tenured, it is not only difficult to remove him or her within a year, but also from one year to the next. This, of course, is because his or her contract is not an annual contract like a probationary teacher; it is a permanent contract. If a school district wishes to remove a tenured teacher, under the current statutes, they can do so on the grounds of incompetency, inefficiency, or insubordination in the line of duty.16 In such a case, the superintendent must supply the teacher with a written notice of areas in which the teacher must improve. After the teacher has been given a notice to improve, he or she is given at least 30 days to ameliorate deficiencies.17 If the teacher does not improve within the 30 days, the superintendent must then provide a written statement of the charges, indicating the grounds alleged to exist for termination.18 This notice of formal charges must be sent to the teacher via certified mail with personal delivery. At this point, the teacher can be removed from active duty with pay. Along with the charges, the district must offer the teacher an opportunity to have a hearing in front of the school board. The hearing must take place between 20 and 30 days after the charges are brought against the teacher. Hearings for the termination of a teacher are public and both the teacher and the

If a student happens to be so unfortunate as to have a low-performing teacher two years in a row, he or she would be an entire grade level behind his or her average classmate.

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school district can provide witnesses to support their cases.19 The teacher also is allowed to have counsel represent him or her, a service that the teachers union typically offers. The school district must make a record of the proceedings and provide them to the teacher within 10 days. Upon the conclusion of the hearing, the majority of the school board must vote to terminate the contract or the teacher will be reinstated. The formal decision of the board must be furnished to the teacher in writing within seven days of receiving the written transcript of the hearing. Assuming each step in the process takes the minimum time the law requires, a tenured teacher could be officially fired from his or her job in just more than 50 days. In reality, the process may take much more time. If at any point school officials do not comply with the law, they are back at square one, and the teacher is back in the classroom. Likewise, if a teacher temporarily improves during the evaluation phase, administrators will have to go through the entire process again if the teachers performance level drops. A teachers rights do not end once the board has voted to terminate the contract. If the teacher wants to appeal the ruling, the teacher can bring a grievance before the circuit court of the county in which the school district is located.20 If the court sides with the teacher, he or she must be reinstated with back pay for the period in which the board terminated him or her. The flow chart shows the process that must be followed for a tenured teacher in Missouri to be removed from his or her post based on performance in the classroom (see Figure 1).


Steps Necessary To Remove A Tenured Teacher In Missouri



The history of K-12 teacher tenure dates back to the late 1800s. At the turn of the century, teachers across the country struggled with poor working conditions. They grappled with low wages, typically less than $50 a month, and large class sizes - often more than 60 students to a room.21 Teachers, like employees of other fields, were subject to losing their jobs based on race, creed, gender, favoritism, and political affiliation. In 1885, the National Education Association (NEA) issued a report calling for political action to protect teachers from these arbitrary and discriminatory dismissal practices. In 1886, Massachusetts became the first state to pass a pre-college tenure law, allowing districts to enter into contracts longer than one year.22 More than 20 years later, in 1909, New Jersey enacted the first U.S. K-12 comprehensive tenure law. 23 Supporters of the New Jersey tenure law argued that awarding tenure would attract more qualified teachers, increase operational efficiency in school districts, make teaching more attractive by increasing political and economic security, and eliminate political favoritism in hiring and dismissal practices. Many states and districts followed New Jerseys lead. By 1950, 21 states had adopted a form of statewide tenure, and 20 states contained districts with tenure components in teacher contracts.24 Throughout the next two decades, tenure became firmly established in school districts, with a total of 37 states and the District of Columbia enforcing tenure laws, plus

13 states offeringcontinuing or longterm contracts.25 The majority of states grant teachers tenure after their third consecutive year of service in a school.26 While tenure is now a widespread practice, the actual definition of tenure varies. It generally is understood as a system in which teachers who have completed a probationary period can only be fired through a lengthy process determined by the state tenure law and local collective bargaining contract.27 The Education Commission of the States defines it this way: Teacher tenure is, therefore, not a job guarantee but rather a job security device protecting against termination of employment in cases where there are not grounds for termination or where the teacher has no fair opportunity to present a defense.28 In Missouri, state statutes refer to tenured teachers as permanent teachers or a teacher with an indefinite contract. Beyond K-12, tenure is also common in university professor contracts. But tenure in U.S. higher education, while similar in definition, came about for a very different purpose. In the late nineteenth century, university faculty began to seek tenure as a means to allow free speech in the classroom and to prevent administration from establishing resolutions that would prevent professors from expressing unsettling ideas or unpopular opinions.29 Teacher tenure in higher education not only had a different genesis, but the process for granting tenure is also much different than it is in K-12 education. In Missouri and many other states, K-12 teachers simply earn tenure after retaining their job for a certain number of years.

When districts used a binary scale of satisfactory and unsatisfactory, 99 percent of teachers were given a satisfactory rating.

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In higher education, tenure is granted based on merit, which often includes teaching performance, contribution to the community or university, and scholarly publications. In fact, many college professors are denied tenure. At Penn State and other research universities, the tenure acceptance rate is just above 50 percent.30 Moreover, not all professors are on tenure tracks. Indeed, the National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty indicates that nationally, just 55 percent of college professors are tenured.31


Teachers are clearly protected in state statute. This, however, is not a problem if the laws protect good teachers and do not hamper efforts to remove low-performing ones. To assess the impact of current tenure laws, we sent electronic surveys regarding teacher tenure via email to 522 public school superintendents. We received

a total of 192 completed surveys, for an overall response rate of 36.6 percent.32 As with any survey, we must be concerned with possible selection effects. That is, the superintendents who chose to participate in our survey may be markedly different from those who did not choose to participate. Because our email indicated the survey was about teacher tenure, those who chose to participate might have stronger feelings on the topic than superintendents who chose not to participate. We cannot estimate the unobservable reasons superintendents chose to participate, but we can examine the observable characteristics of the school districts. In terms of observable characteristics, the districts of superintendents who chose to participate in the survey are very similar to those of nonparticipants (see Table 1). Using data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

State statute says these permanent contracts shall be known as an indefinite contract and shall continue in effect for an indefinite period


Demographic Information Of Districts With Participating And Non-Participating Superintendents

District Characteristic Full-Time Equivalent Teachers Students Per Classroom Teacher Full-Time Equivalent Administrators Avg. Regular Term Teacher Salary Avg. Years of Teacher Experience Percent of Teachers with Masters Degree Average Enrollment Participating Non-Participating 128 122 15.3 15.3 8.4 8.4 $37,781 $37,632 12.3 12.4 48.3% 47.3% 1,636 1,661


Once a teacher becomes tenured, it is not only difficult to remove him or her within a year, but also from one year to the next.

(DESE), we compared the two groups of districts on seven measures. In all seven areas, the two groups were very similar. We conducted t-tests to see if any of the differences were significant and did not find any. Thus, on observable characteristics, the superintendents in our survey represent districts that are very similar to the districts of non-participating superintendents.

survey we asked, How difficult is it to remove a low-performing, tenured teacher based on their performance? We provided four possible responses: Not at all difficult, Not very difficult, Somewhat difficult, and Very difficult. Just 4 percent of superintendents indicated that removing a tenured teacher for his or her performance in the classroom was not at all difficult. Twentythree percent of superintendents Difficulty of removing indicated that it is very difficult a tenured teacher and 23 percent indicated it is not very difficult to remove a tenured As we have noted, much has been made about the difficulty of removing teacher. The most frequent response was that removing a tenured teacher a tenured teacher. The most ardent is somewhat difficult; half of all supporter of tenure will suggest that it is not difficult to remove a tenured respondents chose this response. These figures are very similar for teacher, while the most passionate superintendents who are new to opponent of tenure might say it their position and those who have is impossible. We wanted to get a been serving in that capacity for third perspective on the topic, from superintendents (see Figure 2). In our many years.

Superintendent Survey: How Difficult Is It To Remove A Low-Performing, Tenured Teacher Based On His Or Her Performance?

Not at all difficult Not very difficult Somewhat difficult Very difficult

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According to the superintendents responses, removing a tenured teacher is not impossible, but it certainly is not easy. To better understand which requirements or restrictions provide the greatest barrier to removing a teacher, we asked, What are the biggest obstacles to removing a tenured teacher? We did not want to limit responses to only the few categories that we might construct, so we posed this question as an open response. Upon analyzing the responses, we found they fit within five categories (see Figure 3). Sixty-eight percent of superintendents reported that time is the biggest obstacle to removing a teacher, followed closely by paperwork (64 percent). It makes sense that these two would be reported

at similar levels because they are highly correlated. Administrators are required to meticulously document the performance of tenured teachers who they wish to remove. Conducting observations and completing the paperwork can take a significant amount of time. In addition to taking an inordinate amount of time to complete the necessary documentation, removing a tenured teacher takes political capital. This includes navigating the process with the teachers union, but can be much more than that. As one respondent noted, navigating the community politics can be the most daunting aspect of removing a tenured teacher. It is important to remember that principals and superintendents

Upon the conclusion of the [teacher termination] hearing, the majority of the school board must vote to terminate the contract or the teacher will be


Superintendent Survey: What Are The Biggest Obstacles To Removing A Tenured Teacher?

Percentage of Respondents

100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%




Political Capital



If at any point school officials do not comply with the law, they are back at square one, and the teacher is back in the classroom.

answer to elected boards. If they fire a teacher, they run the risk of upsetting school board members or others in the community who may run for the board. This could put their jobs in jeopardy. Thus, administrators must assess the impact removing a tenured teacher will have on their future employment or even the climate of the school building. Moreover, the burden of proof is on the administrator. That is, they must be able to demonstrate that the teacher is not performing up to par. In the absence of value-added student achievement, this often limits the evidence to subjective teacher performance reviews, which require much documentation on the part of the administration. All of these are important considerations.

job of documenting all the facts of the case or if the teacher does not appeal, the cost is much lower. Even in the best-case scenario, terminating a tenured teacher can still be expensive. Tom Mickes, whose firm Mickes Goldman OToole represents more than 300 school districts in the state, estimates that a hearing before the school board will cost a school district between $10,000 and $15,000 in lawyer fees.36 If the case is taken to the circuit court, school districts can expect to pay another $5,000 to $7,000. If the teacher seeks an appeal, it could cost the school district another $15,000. When we asked Glenn Coltharp, vice president of academic affairs at Crowder College and a former public school superintendent, how often a lawyer was involved in the termination process, he said he could not think of a time a lawyer was not retained. That means at the very least, a school district can expect to pay $10,000 to remove a low-performing teacher. Mickes says that it is possible to remove a low-performing teacher. In fact, his firm has helped many school districts remove low-performing teachers. In his mind, the problem is ineffectual leadership. That is, low-performing teachers remain in the classroom not because of the law, but because administrators have not taken the steps necessary to remove them. Coltharp agrees with this sentiment. He stated that it is certainly easier to remove a non-tenured teacher because you can simply not renew their contract; tenured teachers, on the other hand,

The cost of removing a tenured teacher

Removing a tenured teacher can also be very costly, especially when school districts must retain a lawyer. In a 2005 newspaper report, Scott Reeder documented the tremendous cost of firing a tenured teacher in Illinois.33 His investigation discovered that when school districts hired outside lawyers, they spent more than $219,000 on average. In New York City, it reportedly costs a school district $250,000 to fire a tenured teacher.34 According to the people we talked to, the cost of firing a tenured teacher is less in Missouri, but can still be quite substantial. Roger Kurtz, executive director of the Missouri Association of School Administrators, says the cost really depends on the specifics of the case.35 If a principal has done a good

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take a much more concerted effort. Administrators have to make sure they document the process thoroughly by identifying the problem areas and collecting relevant data. More than one-fifth of superintendents cited money as a considerable obstacle to removing a tenured teacher. In a subsequent question, we asked approximately how much it costs to remove a tenured teacher. Respondents noted these costs could be almost nothing in cases where the documentation has been carefully collected and the case is open-and-shut. In more drawn-out cases, where the teacher appeals, the cost can be considerably higher. Some superintendents reported the cost could be as much as $100,000. Although, many indicated they were unsure of the exact cost because they did not have first-hand experience. We should note that some superintendents were unsure if they should include the principals time in the cost estimates. On one hand, the time involved for a principal is substantial and requires them to take time away from other tasks. One superintendent commented, [T]here are many, many hours involved in the process. Other superintendents, however, noted that this is part of the principals job. They are expected to evaluate teachers, provide detailed reviews, and remove ineffective ones. Therefore, including their time in an estimate of the costs involved may be inappropriate.

The number of terminated tenured teachers

We asked the superintendents to tell us how many tenured teachers they had removed for performance in the past year. Most superintendents, 75 percent, had not removed a single tenured teacher. Three superintendents indicated they had removed five tenured teachers.37 In all, it was reported that 80 tenured teachers had been removed last year. There were a total of 24,076 full-time equivalent teachers in the districts represented by the participating superintendents. That means approximately 3/10ths of 1 percent of teachers were removed.38 Although the number of tenured teachers terminated is small, these numbers do not tell the entire story. Effective administrators do not allow low-performing teachers to actually reach the point of tenure. As one superintendent stated, We dont let poor teachers get to five years. We do not have exact estimates on the number of teachers who might get their contract non-renewed in the first five years or who quit prematurely because they are ineffective. Counting non-renewed teachers in our estimates would certainly increase the percentage of teachers removed for ineffectiveness. Regardless, there are undoubtedly some ineffective teachers reaching the point of tenure. Just as the termination figures do not capture the number of ineffective teachers who are weeded out before receiving tenure, they also do not fully account for the number of teachers who are removed

Most superintendents, 75 percent, had not removed a single tenured teacher.


In our survey we asked, How difficult is it to remove a lowperforming, tenured teacher based on their performance?

for their performance. As we have noted, the termination process can be long and drawn out. This can be taxing, not just for administrators but also for the teacher. Thus, many principals simply counsel low-performing teachers into leaving. Several superintendents referred to this as being coached out. According to the superintendent responses, it seems more teachers leave on their own accord prior to being terminated. One superintendent stated, In my 38 years in administration, Id say that the majority of tenured teachers facing termination proceedings choose to resign. This was a sentiment that other superintendents repeated; to be exact, 23 commented that tenured teachers typically resign rather than face termination. Here are some of their comments: Our effort did not actually result in termination, they seldom do. The teachers have always chose [sic] to resign first. The result is the same. Many of our tenured teachers will resign before we remove them from the classroom. In other words we coach them out of the classroom. We counsel our poor teachers to resign rather than go through a termination process. but they usually resign or retire before you actually terminate them. I have had 5 resign or retire in the last 5 years because they knew what was coming after frank conversations with them. Teachers have a significant incentive to resign prior to being terminated. Even if they are able to improve or somehow avoid the termination, there is a stigma that comes from this process. This

stigma may create an unsatisfactory working environment for the teacher. Additionally, applications for teaching positions usually ask if the applicant has ever been terminated or had a contract not renewed. If a teacher does not resign and ends up being terminated, this significantly harms his or her potential for future employment. If the teacher resigns, however, he or she will not have this label. This may be part of the conversation that superintendents have during the coaching out period, although none mentioned it in their comments.

Support for tenure reform among superintendents

Our final survey question asked whether superintendents would be supportive of efforts to reform teacher tenure (see Figure 4). Only 8 percent of the superintendents in our survey indicated they absolutely would not support teacher tenure reform while nearly 60 percent indicated they may support tenure reform depending on the specifics of the reform. A total of 32 percent indicated they would support tenure reform, either privately or publicly. Two recurring themes appeared among the comments on this question. While many indicated that teacher tenure laws are restrictive, some indicated that the laws are not the greatest cause of all the problems. Many superintendents recognized that it is possible to remove a low-performing teacher or to counsel them out of the classroom. They note that it is the principals job to identify low-performing teachers, to help them improve, and to ultimately remove them if they fail to do so. In other words, if a low-performing teacher


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remains in the classroom, it is the result of feckless leadership, not an overly burdensome tenure law. However, not all superintendents agreed to this sentiment. A few noted that teacher tenure provides protection for incompetent teachers to the detriment of children. One superintendent went as far as saying, Teacher tenure is the greatest restraint to student performance! The other recurring theme among the comments to this question was on the topic of job protection. Even among those who said they would support tenure reform, many stated that teachers need some job protection. They pointed out that district schools are much different

than the private marketplace because district schools are democratically controlled. This means elected school boards are in control. Most of us have heard stories about individuals running for school board to simply get a teacher fired. One superintendent noted that teachers need protection from these types of board members who have axes to grind. Certainly, board politics can be a tricky game. Superintendents offered several suggestions for how teachers might be given some job protection while also making it easier to remove low-performing teachers. An oft-cited recommendation was to offer veteran teachers multi-year

Nearly 63 percent of superintendents reported that time is the biggest obstacle to removing a teacher, followed closely by paperwork (59 percent).


Superintendent Survey: Would You Personally Support Reforming Tenure Laws To Make It Easier To Remove Low-Performing Teachers From The Classroom?

Percentage of Respondents

100% 80% 60% 40% 20% 0%

No, absolutely not

Maybe, depending on the specifics

Yes, but not publicly

Yes, I would publicly support reforming teacher tenure



If [administrators or principals] fire a teacher, they run the risk of upsetting school board members or others in the community who may run for the board.

contracts. This would provide some protection from being targeted for an off year. Ultimately, it seems most superintendents would be supportive of a system that provides protection for high-performing teachers while making it much easier to remove ineffective teachers.

Responses to our survey indicate there is much room for teacher tenure reform in Missouri. Seventy-three percent of superintendents in our survey stated that it is somewhat or very difficult to remove a tenured teacher. They note that the process of removing a teacher based on his or her performance in the classroom takes much effort and could cost a significant amount of money. For these reasons, among others, approximately 92 percent of the superintendents stated they would be supportive of some type of tenure reform. While some superintendents are concerned about providing adequate job protections for good teachers, superintendents overwhelmingly believe it should be easier to remove low-performing teachers. The question then is, what type of reform would put superintendents in the best position to effectively lead their schools? Recent legislative efforts to reform teacher tenure have been coupled with mandated teacher evaluations. Two separate pieces of legislation were voted down in the Missouri House of Representatives in 2013, with neither piece of legislation receiving much support among superintendents. One line of argument

against these bills was that of local control. Representatives from both the Missouri State Teachers Association39 and the Missouri Retired Teachers Association40 made this case. The argument of local control was effective, but we must not make the mistake of thinking that the status quo is pro-local control. The fact of the matter is that our current tenure laws place many restrictions on local school leaders. Thus, doing nothing to change the current laws does not promote healthy, locally controlled schools. Rather than dictate contract terms from the statehouse, it may be wise to give local school leaders more authority to determine their teacher staffing policies. This would allow superintendents, in conjunction with their principals, teachers, and school boards, to develop policies that fit the unique needs of their school district. Some schools may wish to issue multi-year contracts. Others may decide to base retention on teacher evaluations. This alone may not fix the problem of feckless leadership that some of the superintendents alluded to in our survey results, but it is hard to imagine that giving school leaders greater autonomy would diminish their competency. It seems more likely that allowing school leaders to develop their own policies may inspire them because they will finally have the true power to lead.

James V. Shuls, PhD, is the education policy analyst and Kacie Barnes is a former policy researcher at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.


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Obama, Barack. (2009). The presidents remarks at a town hall meeting in Arnold, Mo. The White House Office of the Press Secretary. View online here: the-press-office/remarks-president-arnoldmissouri-town-hall.


See Missouri Statute 168.221 and 168.126.

The 90 days needed for remediation only applies when seeking to remove a teacher due to inefficiency, incompetency, and insubordination. There is a different process for all other statutory offenses.

Universities. Presentation at the Annual Forum of the Association for Institutional Research. Chicago, Illinois. May 2006. View online here: research/reports/AIR_Tenure_Flow_Paper_06.pdf. National Survey of Postsecondary Faculty (2004). View online here:
31 32

Obama, Barack. (2012). President Obamas State of the Union Address. New York Times. View transcript online here: http://www. state-of-the-union-2012-video-transcript.html.

Often, school districts do not receive the results from the states standardized tests until the beginning of the following school year.
15 16

See Missouri Statute 168.116.

Chetty, Raj., John N. Friedman, and Jonah E. Rockoff. (2011). The long-term impacts of teachers: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, No. 17699. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research.
3 4

The 30 days needed for remediation only applies when seeking to remove a teacher due to inefficiency, incompetency, and insubordination. There is a different process for all other statutory offenses.
17 18

In all, 192 superintendents participated in the survey. However, the number of respondents varies for each question. Here are the number of respondents to each question: Difficulty 192, Obstacles 177, Cost 123, Number terminated 181, support for reform 169. Legal fees cost more than $219,000 on average in a five-year period. Read more online here: http://thehiddencostsoftenure. com/stories/?prcss=display&id=295712.

See Missouri Statute 168.116. See Missouri Statute 168.118. See Missouri Statute 168.120.


Ibid. p. 2.

See NBC News article online here: UR1eJKXqnAQ.

34 35

Aaronson, Daniel, Lisa Barrow, and William Sanders. (2007), Teachers and Student Achievement in the Chicago Public High Schools, Journal of Labor Economics, 25 (2007), 95-135. Goldhaber, Dan, and Michael Hansen. (2010) Is it just a bad class? Assessing the stability of measured teacher performance. Seattle, Wash., Center on Reinventing Public Education.

Holcomb, Sabrina. (2006). Answering the call: The history of the National Education Association. NEA Today. View online here:

Personal correspondence, Feb. 15, 2013. Personal correspondence, Feb. 15, 2013.


Teacher tenure history, found here:


One superintendent indicated he included teachers who resigned as a result of being targeted for dismissal.

Hanushek, Eric A., and Steven G. Rivkin. (2006). Teacher quality. Handbook of the Economics of Education2, 1051-1078.

The impact of teachers on a students lifetime earnings can be large. For instance, a one standard deviation in high school performance can lead to an increase of $110,000 to $230,000 in lifetime earnings for the student. For more on the impact of teachers see: Hanushek, Eric. (2011). Valuing Teachers: How much is a good teacher worth? Education Next, 11(3), 41-45.

Kersten, Thomas A. Teacher Tenure: Illinois School Board Presidents Perspectives and Suggestions for Improvement. Department of Educational Administration and Foundations. College of Education, Illinois State University. Winter 2006.

Marshall, Patricia L., Debra V. Baucom, and Allison L. Webb. Do You Have Tenure, and Do You Really Want It? The Clearing House, Vol. 71, No. 5 (May - Jun., 1998), pp. 302-304.
24 25


Hanushek, Eric. (2010). The economic value of higher teacher quality. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, No. 16606. Cambridge, Mass.: National Bureau of Economic Research.

Christi, Kathy, and Jennifer Dounay Zinth. (2011). Teacher tenure or continuing contract laws. Education Commission of the States. View online here: clearinghouse/94/93/9493.pdf.

The widget effect: downloads/TheWidgetEffect.pdf.


Definitions of tenure found here: http://www. issues/2010/02/pdf/teacher_tenure.pdf.

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Prior to our joining the Show-Me Institute, researchers sent requests under the Missouri Sunshine Law to school districts regarding teacher dismissals. They asked each district to report the number of teachers that had been asked to leave, terminated, or fired over the 11year period of 2000-01 to 2010-11. We received data from 122 school districts. In this time span, only 29 of the school districts for which we have data reported removing a single teacher. Fifty-four teachers had been terminated and 457 had their contracts not renewed. Thus, 46.5 teachers were removed or not renewed each year. That is 0.4 teachers per school district. In 2011, these 122 districts had a total of 19,470 full-time equivalent teachers. Assuming they had a constant number of full-time employees over the span of years we are examining, the districts removed or did not renew contracts for 0.2 percent of teachers annually. This figure is very close to the figures reported in our survey.

It seems unlikely that less than 1 percent of workers in any field are doing an unsatisfactory job.

Christi, Kathy, and Jennifer Dounay Zinth. (2011).

Ritter, Gary and James V. Shuls. (2012). If a tree falls in a forest, but no one hears Phi Delta Kappan, 94(3), 34-38.
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Loope, David R. Academic Tenure: Its Origins, Administration, and Importance. South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, Columbia, S.C. May 1995.

Blank, Chris. (2013). Missouri House rejects education legislation. The Associated Press. View online here: news/education/article/Missouri-House-rejectseducation-legislation-4425784.php.

See Missouri Revised Statute 168.106.

Dooris, Michael J., and Marianne Guidos. Tenure Achievement Rates at Research

Kreider, Jim. (2013). Education bill harms Nixa schools. Springfield News-Leader. View online here: article/20130320/OPINIONS02/303200043/jimkreider-Reform-bill-harms-Nixa-schools.


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