SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill could remove certain protections from poorly performing teachers in Utah, basically making it easier for them to be fired.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, says some teachers are in the classroom year after year simply because policies are in place that make it difficult to fire them. Consequently, he says students suffer. Stephenson is drafting a bill to remove some of that red tape. He will present aspects of the bill at an interim Education Committee meeting Wednesday.
"It absolutely would make it easier to fire bad teachers. Right now it's extremely difficult. And so we are stuck with that small number of poor teachers, who our children get shuffled through their classrooms and have years in school with very little results," he said.
Mike Kelley, spokesman for the Utah Education Association, said there are policies in place that require school districts to be able to justify terminating a person, but it's not like public school teachers in Utah are given tenure — a sort of untouchable status professors of higher education attain.
"Essentially all it says is that a school district must have a justifiable reason in order to terminate an employee," Kelley said. "It's not really difficult to terminate someone who is not performing up to standards."
Stephenson said teachers who don't get results in the classroom shouldn't be kept around. That's not to say one bad year of student performance would be grounds for termination, though.
"There would have to be low performance over time, with clear results, to show they are incapable of improving, incapable of helping students perform better," he said.
The UEA has yet to see any wording on the proposed bill, as Stephenson is still working on it, so the organization hasn't taken a position, Kelley said.
"We are in support of ensuring a quality teacher in every classroom" Kelley said. "And if that's at the heart of what Senator Stephenson is proposing, then we would be in support of it."
But making teachers easier to terminate won't automatically improve teacher quality, Kelly cautioned.
"One of our concerns is if you do remove a poor performing teacher ... the question becomes who do you replace them with? Because right now, we don't have a huge pool of qualified applicants," Kelley said.
The UEA is supportive of measures that make the teaching profession attractive to prospective applicants, he said. And if a bill looks like it will be punitive toward teachers, it could turn off quality instructors from wanting to teach in Utah.
"That's actually going to hinder, not help attract people to the profession," Kelley said.
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