Teachers Unions Keep Fiddling While Public Education Burns

There are too many tenured incompetents and criminals who are teaching our children. The unions’ “reforms” will do little, if anything, to get these undesirables out of our nation’s classrooms.

As we all know, Navy SEALs recently killed terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Unfortunately, it seems that it was easier to flesh out and kill American Public Enemy #1 in a hostile foreign country than to get rid of an incompetent or criminal teacher in the U.S. Too bad for OBL that he wasn’t a member of the National Education Association. He’d still be a working terrorist going through what unionistas laughably refer to “due process.” Actually, as teacher and blogger Darren Miller has pointed out, what was once “due” has become “undue process.”

James Smith, Executive Director of School Security for Paterson, NJ, and Michigan’s Education Action Group have prepared a flow chart, which shows that it takes two to five years to get rid of a criminal or poorly performing tenured teacher in New Jersey. This is not peculiar to the Garden State. Most states have to go through a similar circuitous and arcane maze get rid of teachers who should not be allowed near children, let alone responsible for them.

What the chart does not tell us are the hideous costs involved in such an endeavor. Recently in Los Angeles, it took $3.5 million just to try to get rid of seven tenured teachers who were said to be incompetent. Only four were actually removed.

Here are a few recent headlines that typify the difficulty in firing undesirable teachers:

MichiganTeacher Threatens to Kill Her Boss, Union Gets Her Six Figure Pay Day – A teacher shows an inappropriate film to her students and when called to account for it, she threatens to kill her principal.

California – High bar for firing kept Sacramento teacher on – A teacher is charged with six counts of sex crimes with children. Four years later he is still employed by his school district.

New YorkNYC’s fire-proof criminal teachers go back to class – More than 500 teachers convicted of crimes in the last five years – drunk driving, assault, manslaughter, etc. – are still on the job because the New York City Department of Education is hamstrung from getting rid of them.

ColoradoDenver Firings of tenured teachers rarely occur – A teacher physically and emotionally abused her students in the classroom. It took four years and dozens of complaints from parents to get rid of her.

Why is this cruelty to children allowed to continue unabated? To begin with, there are no teacher evaluation systems throughout most of the country. Then there are union contracts and state laws put into place by union-bought legislators that make for never-ending proceedings.

As more and more of these stories are coming to light, the public is starting to rebel and begin to demand more accountability. Sensing the changing zeitgeist, the unions have conjured up a couple of documents which they claim will solve some of the problems. Their proposals, however, will do for teacher accountability and discipline what a band aid does for lung cancer.

The American Federation of teachers has come up with an eight page document on teacher discipline. This is hardly an improvement – this document is just a more codified way of over-protecting undeserving teachers. Their proposal includes a 100-day process replete with multiple hearings and meetings that does allow for firing teachers for criminality, but contains no provision for getting rid of incompetent teachers. Another flaw with AFT’s proposal is “that a teacher could not show up for weeks, give no excuse, and still wait out a 100 day hearing process, collecting pay all the while, and still might not be let go.”

The NEA document is even more laughable; it deals only with teacher evaluation and has nothing about what to do with criminal teachers. And the union is in control of the evaluation process, which is akin to letting the fox be in charge of the henhouse,

Indicators of Teacher Practice demonstrating a teacher’s subject matter knowledge, skill in planning and delivering instruction that engages each and every student, and ability to monitor and assess student learning and adjust instruction accordingly. Such indicators may include the following indicators or others chosen by a local or state affiliate: classroom observations, proof of practice (e.g., lesson plans, curriculum plans, student assessments, minutes from team planning meetings, curriculum maps, and teacher instructional notes), teacher interviews and self-assessments.

Then there is an assessment problem with NEA’s proposal. Only a tiny part of their evaluation process concerns itself with student performance. About 95% of the NEA plan is fluff – good lesson plans, evidence of reflective practice, self-assessments, completion of meaningful professional development, etc. Even where student learning is addressed, it is mostly subjective – teacher-created assessments, district or school assessments, student work (papers, portfolios, projects, presentations); teacher defined objectives for individual student growth. Finally, at the end of the student assessment section there is a mention of using a standardized test as part of the overall plan.

What to do about all this?

Get rid of teacher tenure – or as it’s properly called, “permanence.” No one else is basically guaranteed a position for life after just a few years at their job. Secondly, get a real evaluation system in place that utilizes standardized tests and includes principal and expert evaluations. Also, work like the devil to return to a quick and orderly due process procedure and stop coddling criminals who just happen to be teachers.

Finally, parents must ultimately be given the right to choose where to send their children to school and have the state’s education money follow the child. This would empower parents by letting them determine what’s best for their own children. These reforms would negate the power of the teachers unions and their legislative toadies, all of whom seem intent on maintaining an abusive status quo where failure all too often has become acceptable.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

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