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Improving (Not Eliminating) Due Process

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Michelle and Jack continue their conversation about the Vergara decision, looking particularly at how due process might be improved rather than eliminated.

Schneider: Let's get back to the question of what better due process would look like. I think it's realistic to think about a fast track dismissal process for egregious violations, as well as about a less cumbersome appeals process. And I think the unions might also agree to what I suggested earlier—a third year of observation before permanent status in cases where the evidence doesn't point clearly in one direction or another. 

Rhee: I think the main priority has to be a dismissal process that doesn't take years to complete. I also think that it shouldn't require dozens of really complicated steps. I think the process can be straightforward and give the teacher and the administration ample opportunity to present their cases, but in a streamlined and efficient manner.

Schneider: Agreed. But what does that look like? That's where the disagreements are going to be. Is it a board of appeals that hears cases? Is it an inspectorate of expert teachers doing classroom observations? Because if options like these are on the table, they would require funding and a commitment to make them work. 

Rhee: I don't think it's a group of people doing observations. You've got people doing that in most cases already and a one-time observation isn't going to give more robust information than what a good teacher evaluation system gives in terms of data.

Schneider: Of course. But that's a false choice. We need to move beyond infrequent observations conducted by involved parties.

If we're really serious about reducing red tape, then we need to build observation systems that all stakeholders view as fair and valid. And that kind of system-building is just as important when we talk about reforming the appeals process.

Rhee: One challenge with third party appeals boards is that they've been shown in the past not to make the best decisions.  I think district superintendents have the most incentive to want to keep great teachers in the classroom right? Why would they want to allow a principal making decisions for bad reasons to fire an effective teacher?

Who do you think should hear the appeal?

Schneider: The challenge here is scale. I trust some of the principals all of the time, and all of the principals all of the time. But that's about the full extent of my credulity.

I think less important than the question of who should hear the appeal is the question of what evidence will be available. If you have truly robust evidence of a teacher's practice, it becomes less important how an appeals board is constituted. But without that evidence, identity politics will play a much greater role.

Rhee: Right. But when we're talking about dismissing ineffective teachers, there's typically a preponderance of evidence.  It's not like we're parsing out effective vs. highly effective.

Schneider: The amount of evidence is less important than the quality of the evidence. And a big part of quality is the belief by all involved that the evidence is fair and valid.

Rhee: Do you really think that we can get to a place where "all involved" are on board? What exactly would that mean and how could it be achieved?

Schneider: I do. But I think that it would involve an emphasis on process rather than on product. That means agreeing on the kinds of things that a third party set of evaluators would do, how they would be trained, how often they would visit, and what kinds of evidence they would collect. And then stepping back to see how that process works.

I also think that it would require a serious commitment at both the state and federal level to fund the effort. We can't just turn a task of this magnitude over to schools and districts. The capacity simply isn't there.

But if this were thoughtfully negotiated and adequately funded, I can absolutely imagine a state-level inspectorate that helps oversee the tenure-granting process and that manages dismissal cases. In fact, it might do a great deal to professionalize teaching without undermining the protections that teachers have fought so hard for.

Rhee: Does this have to happen separately in every community? For example, this has already been done in DC Can that model be replicated?

Schneider: IMPACT, the DC system, is very closely tied to standardized test scores. And I don't think that the inclusion of such scores is something that would be supported on a wide scale. Perhaps I'm wrong. But I think that the process would look much different—much more tied to strong human systems.

I don't see any of this happening any time soon. There just isn't any vision, or any money, for that  matter, pushing to build consensus.

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