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Principals and Teacher Contract Non-Renewals

Last school year, I took a survey on teacher non-renewal, and when the researcher shared the results with me later (a common practice in educational research), I thought they were worth sharing here. Thanks to Dr. Andy Nixon of the University of West Georgia for writing the following summary of his research on principals involved in non-renewing a teacher's contract. (Note that this is a brief summary for this blog, and not the full version for scholarly publication.)

Principals and Teacher Contract Non-Renewals
Andy Nixon, EdD

School principals confront pressure from state and federal accountability legislation to produce evidence of student learning on standardized assessments. In this high-stakes environment, principals' decisions play an important part in determining whether teachers are offered contracts, and school principals face prominent challenges which predictably work against recommending contract non-renewal for teachers. Learning more about the criteria that principals apply to teacher contract non-renewal decisions affords an opportunity to improve the teacher preparation and in-service teacher professional development. This line of inquiry also assists the identification of themes for principal professional development. Further, identifying complications which hinder principals from recommending non-renewal of ineffective teachers serves to improve the prospect of learning for students.

The issues regarding teacher contract non-renewal are arguably the most stressful, demanding, time-consuming, and emotional task required of a school principal (Lawrence, Vachon, Leake, & Leake, 2005; Menuey, 2005). The non-renewal process often extracts an emotional and political toll on the principal. Principals feel that their, rather than the teachers,' level of performance is on trial.

Interestingly and contrary to common perceptions, Zirkel (2010) pointed out that in legal disputes, defendant school districts prevail over plaintiff teachers by a better than three to one ratio. This raises the question as to whether the real issue is one of principal competence, will, and commitment rather than the improbability of success. It seems that lack of time, emotion, and other stresses may carry large weight in limiting principals' efforts at initiating teacher contract non-renewals.

Research Questions
Our research generally answers four core questions:
1) What is the priority of reasons that school principals would recommend non-renewal of a probationary teacher's contract?
2) Which behaviors do principals observe most frequently from ineffective teachers?
3) Which complications obscure school principals' ability to deal with ineffective teachers?
4) Do responses vary based on geographic or other demographic differences?
Using an electronic survey approach, we have about 1935 principal participants in 13 states so far.

Prioritization of Reasons for Contract Non-Renewal
Consistently, our results point to the importance of "ethical violations and inappropriate conduct" as reasons for contract non-renewal. This leads to the consideration of how ethical behavior is taught or emphasized in both pre-service and in-service teacher development. The results are quite remarkable in terms of the consistent importance given to this criterion from all regions and all demographic respondents.

Equally consistent, "incompetence" has been identified as the second highest ranked priority related to teacher contract renewal reasons. While acting against an ethical issue seems more obvious and overt for the principal, making the case over a period of time that a teacher is incompetent is a very different type of proposition and work scenario for the principal.

"Lack of student achievement," as a reason for teacher contract non-renewal, consistently measures a middle level of importance from principals.

All regions and demographics have also selected the importance of pedagogical content knowledge in teacher contract non-renewal reasons. Both pre-service and in-service teacher development needs should be considered in light of these results.

Ineffective Teacher Behaviors
Both the descriptive and statistical results point to a strong relationship among pedagogical content knowledge, instructional skills, and teacher success. Principals from all regions agree that they observe "lack of instructional skills" most frequently from their ineffective teachers.

Complications to Dealing with Ineffective Teachers
Time is universally identified as a large barrier for school principals' ability to address ineffective teaching. This is true across each region. In dealing with ineffective teachers, principals report that superintendents and boards of education are generally supportive of their efforts. There is slightly stronger support received from superintendents than from boards of education.

Other complications, however, vary significantly based on regional differences. The differences are striking when comparing the collective bargaining states with those that do not allow teacher collective bargaining. Principals in the collective bargaining Midwest and Rocky Mountains apparently need stronger support and development in learning how navigate ineffective teacher issues than their counterparts in the Southeast. We wonder whether principals in collective bargaining states are burdened with more ineffective teachers because of the reported complications in addressing this issue.

References Cited
Lawrence, C. E., Vachon, M. K., Leake, D. O., & Leake, B. H. (2005). The marginal teacher: A step by step guide to fair dismissal for identification and dismissal (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Menuey, B. (2005). Teacher perceptions of professional incompetence and barriers to the dismissal process. Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, 18, 309-325.
Zirkel, P. (2010). Teacher tenure is not the real problem. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(1), 76-77.

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Based on my experience as a K-5 principal, the above findings ring true to me, especially the comment that "Principals feel that their, rather than the teachers,' level of performance is on trial."

There's lots to discuss here - what strikes you?

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