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It’s been six years since Newsweek published an article that proposed a solution to the problems facing America’s public schools. The article was entitled “The Key to Saving American Education: We Must Fire Bad Teachers.”

While advocates of education reform have called on better teacher evaluations as part of that solution, it hasn’t been until recently that the true cost of a bad teacher has been outlined. That happened a couple of years ago, when nine California students — supported by an advocacy coalition — charged that a bad teacher could significantly impact a student’s ability to learn and, therefore, impact them for a lifetime. They brought their case to court.

In Vergara v. California, Judge Rolf M. Treu determined that “grossly ineffective” teachers could have an adverse affect on the education students receive. “The evidence is compelling,” Treu wrote. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

During expert testimony it was determined that having an ineffective teacher for just one year could cost a student as much as $1.4 million in lifetime earnings. A four-year study also revealed that students in the Los Angeles Unified School District lost 9.54 months of learning in one year (compared to their counterparts) when they were taught by a teacher ranked in the bottom 5 percent of competence.

Tenure too soon?

Some advocates of education reform have noted that tenure, in many cases, is awarded to teachers before a significant amount of time has passed to ensure that they are effective in their roles through teacher evaluations and other performance metrics.

Only six of the 50 states and the District of Columbia require a probation period of five years before tenure is granted — a status that makes it challenging to fire a teacher. Those states are New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee and Louisiana. Four states granted tenure after only two years. Those were California, South Carolina, North Dakota and Vermont. Mississippi did so after only one year. Rhode Island and Florida only awarded annual contracts, according to a report in Huffington Post.

In most states, the average was three years of teacher evaluations before tenure was granted. Also, in the event of districtwide layoffs, 11 states, look at a teacher’s evaluation performance — rather seniority — to determine which teachers should be included in the layoffs.

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