Lack Of Leadership From Schools Requires State-Level Policy Changes
In my study of Missouri school superintendent compensation, I noted that many superintendents are promoted up through the ranks of school teachers. Similarly, many school board members are former teachers.
This means that when school administrators and board members consider layoffs and teacher termination, many of them may have fresh memories of serving as a teacher. Many may also have friends who continue to serve as teachers in the district. As a result, people who consider layoff and termination decisions in Missouri’s school districts may consider the impact on teachers more carefully than the long-term impact on students.
Though Missouri law technically allows for teachers to be terminated on the basis of “incompetency,” we have shown here that districts rarely fire teachers. For example, the Parkway School District, which employs more than 1,200 teachers, has terminated just five in the past 10 years. Though state law is part of the problem, school leadership certainly plays a role.
Education expert Rick Hess writes about school administrator’s lack of leadership triggering similar teacher tenure reform efforts in Massachusetts. He writes:
Given the freedom to craft sensible, quality-sensitive evaluations that thoughtfully give some weight to seniority, the state’s school boards and superintendents have . . . punted.
Hess’ observation is likely relevant to Missouri. In our collection of teacher tenure data, we have also requested some districts’ termination policies. Frequently, those policies follow state law, with little added.
So, even though Missouri law states that teachers “shall be retained on the basis of performance-based evaluations and seniority . . .” during layoffs, districts can, in practice, choose to favor teachers who have seniority.
This is why a legislative fix is needed. Missouri House Bill 1526 would require that a teacher’s individual performance be the “most heavily weighted factor” when layoffs are considered. School districts, which receive a tremendous amount of state funding, should not be allowed to make decisions that favor teachers at the expense of students.