Audrey Spalding
Last week, Ben Barnes, a Show-Me Institute intern, wrote about the teacher tenure reform bill that Missouri legislators are considering. Reforming teacher tenure may seem like an abstract concept, but the consequences of our current law are very real.

Eric Hanushek, of Stanford University, found that a good teacher can help a student learn one and a half years of material during a single academic year while a bad teacher might only be able to help a student learn half a year's worth of material. In other words, a good teacher can help a student achieve three times as much educational growth as a bad teacher. A push for teacher tenure reform is not just about holding teachers accountable, it is about creating a way for school districts to get rid of ineffective teachers in order to help students learn more and from better teachers.

It appears that teaching is one of the most secure jobs in the state of Missouri. According to national data, few Missouri teachers are terminated in a given year.

But, I am curious about specific school districts, not just an estimated average across numerous schools. For school districts throughout the state, what number of teachers were terminated during the past 10 years? Are most dismissed teachers new to the profession (and have not yet achieved tenure), with very few being dismissed after achieving tenure? We are still doing research on this issue, but the preliminary data looks like teaching has an extraordinary level of job security.

Consider the following:

  • In the past 10 years, the Cape Girardeau School District, which employs approximately 350 teachers, has terminated just two tenured teachers.

  • During the same time, the Parkway School District, which employs more than 1,200 teachers, has terminated five.

  • The Springfield School District, which has more than 1,600 teachers, has terminated fewer than 10 teachers in the past five years.

  • The Van Buren School District, in its response to a Sunshine Law request, noted that "no teachers ...were asked to leave, were terminated, or were fired by the district" during the past 10 years.

  • The Shelby County R-IV School District has not terminated any teachers during the past 10 years.

  • The last time the Gilman City R-IV School District terminated any teachers was during the 2002-03 school year. That year, two teachers were terminated.

Perhaps Missouri is inundated with high-quality teachers to the point that, over a 10-year period, some school districts have termination rates of as little as 0.4 percent. But, the case may be that poor teachers continue to teach at school districts that cannot (or will not) terminate them for performance reasons. And this means that some Missouri students will continue to receive a low-quality education.

Instead of keeping on the best and the worst teachers, it is time let school districts encourage the worst teachers to find new jobs, while rewarding the best teachers with pay boosts. Missouri House Bill 1526 is certainly a step in the right direction.

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Audrey Spalding