Yet another study reveals the difficulty of getting rid of incompetent teachers.

Last Thursday, the Fordham Institute released a report on the difficulty of removing ineffective teachers from public school classrooms. The results of the study showed that in some school districts it is virtually impossible to get rid of a bad apple. The Fordham analysts used a ten point metric based on three simple questions:

  1. Does tenure protect veteran teachers from performance-based dismissal?
  2. How long does it take to dismiss an ineffective veteran teacher?
  3. How vulnerable is an ineffective veteran teacher’s dismissal to challenge?

They then used this framework to gauge the difficulty of dismissing ineffective veteran teachers in twenty-five diverse districts across the country. The five districts rated “very difficult to dismiss,” are all big-city districts, four of them run by powerful teachers unions – New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The union in Nevada’s Clark County School District, doesn’t have the heft of the others.

The study found three major obstacles to firing teachers. In 17 of the 25 districts, state law allows teachers to achieve tenure and never relinquish it, even if poor performance reviews follow. Also, it takes forever to cut through the red tape involved in a teacher dismissal. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, it can take five or more years to complete the process. And finally, teachers have multiple appeals to their dismissal in many districts.

The results here are hardly surprising, as other studies have come to the same conclusions. But unionistas will predictably trot out the “indignant” card nevertheless. On cue, the constantly fulminating New York City teacher union boss Michael Mulgrew tore into the report, claiming that every year “…thousands of teachers in good standing leave of their own volition because the system has failed to provide the supports they need to effectively help the students in their classrooms.” Okay, if Mulgrew is right, the NYC Dept. of Ed may want to examine his charge, but it really has little to do with the fact that many teachers in NYC shouldn’t be allowed near a classroom. Period. I wonder how many years of “supports” it would take before Mr. Mulgrew would want to put an end to an incompetent teaching one of his kids.

On the same day the Fordham report was issued, the National Council on Teacher Quality released the results of a study on teacher preparation programs, and found that “…undergraduate elementary teacher prep programs still have far to go, particularly in preparing elementary teachers in mathematics…. The new findings do little to quell the notion that teaching is an ‘easy major,’ open to anyone who applies in many institutions. Only one quarter of the programs (26 percent) are sufficiently selective, generally admitting only the top half of college goers.” One has to wonder what the NEA-created-and-supported – and frankly useless – National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), a “professional accrediting body for teacher preparation,” has to say about all this.

Coincidentally, two days before the Fordham and NCTQ results were disclosed, the 2015 PISA test scores were announced. The Programme for International Student Assessment is a test in reading, mathematics and science administered every three years to 15 year-olds in 72 countries by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. And the results were not pretty for the U.S. The country’s students performed in the middle of the pack in reading and science, but well below average in mathematics, where our clocks were cleaned by countries like Singapore, Switzerland and Estonia. We couldn’t quite measure up to Latvia, Malta and Portugal either.

While our poor showing on PISA is not solely a result of union-mandated work rules and laws, NEA/AFT and their affiliates do deserve a fair amount of the blame. An NCTQ study in 2011 showed that 68 percent of teachers working in Los Angeles reported that “there were tenured teachers currently working in their schools who should be dismissed for poor performance.” When I taught, every teacher, every kid, every parent and the even the janitors knew who the lemons were. We all knew, and so did the principal, but all she could really do was minimize the damage by curtailing students’ exposure to these teachers as much as possible. Imagine having to decide which unfortunate students get stuck with him or her.

On a peripheral note, one phenomenon that teacher union leaders are famously mum about is the number of teachers who send their own kids to private schools. The most recent survey, released earlier this year by Education Next, found that school teachers are much more likely to send their own kids to a private school than other parents. “No less than 20% of teachers with school age children, but only 13% of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school. Teachers are also just as likely to make use of a charter school or to homeschool their child as other parents.” And teachers in union-dominated big cities are much more likely to send their kids to private schools. In fact, according to an earlier study, 39 percent of teachers in Chicago send their kids to private school.

The American public education system is irreparably damaging many of our children. Using a 5 percent failing teacher rate – the number used in the Fordham report – millions of kids across the country are being affected. In California, for example, 5 percent of 300,000 teachers is 15,000 and those educators should be removed from the classroom. But no, all but a handful are still on the job. If each of those teachers has a class of 25, that means 375,000 kids are getting a rotten education. Every year.

The best way to deal with a system that allows bad teachers to remain on the job is to give parents a choice where to send their children to school…and have public money follow along. Apparently, at least 39 percent of teacher union members in Chicago would quietly agree.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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