In 29 States, Teachers Cannot be Dismissed due to Ineffectiveness

New analysis from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) finds that a majority of states fail to specify teacher ineffectiveness as an explicit reason to dismiss a teacher. In Walking the Tightrope: Teacher Effectiveness and Personnel Policies, NCTQ examines if states are achieving an appropriate balance of interests between teachers and students when it comes to difficult decisions regarding removing teachers from the classroom.

While all 50 states have explicit laws on the books enumerating the many reasons teachers can be dismissed (e.g., unprofessional or illegal behavior), 29 states fail to include reasons regarding ineffectiveness in the classroom. This means that states do not acknowledge that teachers can and should be dismissed for the simple reason that they do not teach well, creating a roadblock many dismissal attempts fail to surmount.

“Districts tend to reserve their energy and sparse resources to pursue dismissals that cannot be easily challenged in a court of law, such as when a teacher has committed a crime or comes to school inebriated, and not even try to dismiss a math teacher who simply cannot teach math,” commented Kate Walsh, President of NCTQ. “This culture of tolerance does harm both to the health and reputation of the teaching profession, but more importantly to students. Students pay the highest price for inaction and state roadblocks.”

School districts’ overall dismissal rates (for any reason) are rarely made public and can be difficult to verify. National data put the average number of tenured teacher dismissals for poor performance at one in 1,000. A recent investigation in New York City, which has a tenured workforce of 58,000, found that in the 2015-2016 school year the district attempted to dismiss 406 teachers overall, but only 181 for reasons due to ineffectiveness. Far fewer of these dismissals were upheld. Similarly, research into teacher dismissals in Atlanta found that from 2011 to 2017, only 4 percent of all teacher dismissal cases mentioned teacher effectiveness or quality. These and other examples suggest that it may be a relatively common phenomenon among U.S. school districts that ineffective teachers are allowed to remain in classrooms.

Certainly U.S. school teachers recognize the problem. In a recent survey [], teachers reported that 12 percent of their colleagues are of unsatisfactory quality.

For the data for each state, promising state policies, and detailed policy recommendations, see