Should Utah law be changed to make it easier to fire teachers whose students don't make enough academic progress?
Most Utahns surveyed in a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll think so.
About 69 percent of 625 registered Utah voters surveyed said they'd support such a change. It's a question that has become a topic of conversation nationally and at the state level in recent years as reformers and politicians seek ways to improve education.
In Utah, Sen. Howard Stephenson, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, has said he's working on a bill that would remove certain protections when teachers perform poorly.
"Children deserve an effective teacher every single year in every single class, and it's appropriate that the bottom 5 percent not be protected by career status," Stephenson said.
Now, Utah teachers are on provisional status for their first three to five years in the classroom, meaning they can be fired at the end of the school year for any reason without explanation. After the three to five years, administrators decide whether to let them go or grant them career status, meaning they can be fired only after a much more extensive due process.
Stephenson's proposal would make it so teachers could lose their career status if they consistently fail over time to produce adequate growth in student progress.
Stephenson said Tuesday he was surprised only 69 percent of those surveyed said they'd support that change.
"That just really surprises me that a third would want to protect poor teachers," he said.
Others, however, say there's reason for pause. The Utah Education Association (UEA) has not yet taken a formal position on the proposal, but its president, Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, said the UEA has concerns.
She said procedures already exist for dismissing teachers, and those should be locally controlled.
"We have a process that works," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said. "We have a process that if the administrators are working in cooperation and follow the procedure, it will weed out those teachers that should not be in the teaching profession.
"There are a lot of people who feel that the union is the obstructionist in getting teachers who shouldn't be in the profession out of the profession, and that couldn't be further from the truth," Gallagher-Fishbaugh said. "It's counterintuitive to think the UEA would support keeping bad teachers in the classroom. These are our children. These are too precious of a resource for that to happen."
Last school year, the Granite district dismissed 25 to 35 teachers, the Alpine district dismissed 18, the Jordan district 30 and the Canyons district 15, district officials recently told The Tribune.
Survey respondent Theresa Taurone, a retired teaching assistant from Layton, said she would oppose changing the law to remove poorly performing teachers' career status. She said she'd rather see those teachers offered additional guidance and training first.
"I do believe that a lot of young teachers need direction," Taurone said. "If there's a possibility you have a shining star out there that just needed a little direction then that would be a major loss to our children."
Still, most of those surveyed said they'd support "changing the law to make it easier to fire teachers whose students consistently fail to make adequate academic progress."
"I don't want to see people fired, but if they're not doing their job, find someone who will do the job," said survey respondent Julie Bailey, an office manager. "In one year you can destroy a child."
Lloyd Steele, a West Valley City retiree whose grandchild will start preschool in the fall, said he'd also support such a change.
"I've had dealings with a couple teachers that just don't belong there," Steele said. "We have a tendency to keep those that aren't doing their jobs, so to speak, and I think there should be a standard."
Support for changing the law seemed to cross gender and political lines. Of those surveyed, 75 percent of men and 64 percent of women said they support changing the law. Sixty-three percent of Democrats surveyed, 73 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents agreed.
Overall, 25 percent of those surveyed said they would be opposed to changing the law, and 6 percent were undecided. The overall margin of error was 4 percentage points.