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Informal Methods Favored in Removing Poor Teachers From Schools

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Put off by the time and expense involved, few school officials initiate formal dismissal actions against incompetent teachers, but many of them coax poor teachers out of the classroom through informal methods.

These are the conclusions of two Stanford University researchers in a new study on teacher dismissal completed for the National Institute of Education.

To gauge the frequency of formal dismissal actions, Edwin M. Bridges and Patricia J. Gumport of the Stanford Graduate School of Education reviewed state and federal court records dating back to 1939.

Only 86 Cases

They found only 86 cases involving the dismissal of public-school teachers for incompetence; in two-thirds of those cases, the dismissal of the teacher was upheld.

Most of the teachers involved in those cases were dismissed for an inability to maintain discipline in their classrooms, according to the researchers.

In support of their contention that few formal proceedings are initiated by school officials, Mr. Bridges and Ms. Gumport cite a review conducted several years ago of employment records in California that revealed no cases in which tenured teachers were dismissed for incompetence between 1933 and 1973.

"The dismissal of a tenured teacher for incompetence appears to be a rare event," the authors conclude in their study, which was issued by the Institute for Research on Educational Finance and Governance at Stanford.

But they offer two caveats to this conclusion.

First, the dismissal of tenured teachers seems to be increasing. They report that in the three-year period from 1980 through 1982, there were 50 percent more cases of dismissal reviewed before the courts they surveyed than there were in the 30-year period from 1940 through 1969.

Moreover, they report, over 50 percent of all the cases turned up by their investigation were taken to court during the past six years.

Informal Methods

They also note in their report, which is entitled "The Dismissal of Tenured Teachers for Incompetence," that school authorities, "faced with lengthy and costly legal proceedings," apparently rely on less visible means of removing incompetent teachers from the classroom.

The authors suggest that many school officials have induced poor teachers to resign through counseling or the issuance of unsatisfactory performance evaluations.

Based on the preliminary results of a survey of school officials in California, the researchers conclude in their report that it is common for resignations to be brought about in this way.

"In fact," they write, "nearly every administrator contacted thus far acknowledges dismissing at least one tenured teacher in this manner during the past year or two."

"One superintendent," they add, "disclosed that seven tenured teachers in his district have been forced to resign for incompetence in the past two years."

Such findings suggest, say Mr. Bridges and Ms. Gumport, that the low incidence of formal dismissal actions against teachers may not be caused by the "timidity of school officials in imposing sanctions on incompetent teachers."--tt

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