Thursday, July 27, 2006

Unions Defend Bad Teachers'Tenure - At Students' Expense

The following article was written by Michael Chapman, published and copyrighted by Investor's Business Daily - National Issue.on September 21, 1998. We found this article at the Waking

This article stands the test of time.

Unions Defend Bad Teachers'Tenure - At Students' Expense

The teacher was caught drinking in the classroom. But public school officials in Northern Virginia couldn't fire her.

Why? Tenure laws.

''Everybody in the county knows she's a drunk,'' one parent told IBD. ''But they can't fire her. Yeah, she's got a problem and needs help. But you have to draw the line -for the kids. It's a drug-free zone.''

Such stories are commonplace. Bad teachers, poor learning - nothing seems to change. And despite complaints, it doesn't look like teacher tenure in public schools will change soon.

''I don't see that forthcoming,'' said Chuck Sambar, a member of the Glendale (Calif.) Unified School District board. ''I recognize that the power and muscle of the teacher organizations in California are so dominant over the state Legislature that the legislators are not too inclined to mess with them.''

What about the students?

A University of Tennessee study found that student test scores are lower in classrooms run by incompetent teachers.

The effects seem to last. The study showed that fifth-graders who had studied under bad teachers since second grade scored 54 to 60 points lower on math tests than students under good teachers. Scores didn't change much when the poorly performing students were placed with better teachers.

''If an ineffective teacher isn't dealt with, children can be permanently harmed,'' said researcher William Sanders. ''They don't just bounce back.''

There are 2.6 million public school teachers. About 18%, or 468,000 teachers, are incompetent, according to Mary Jo McGrath, who runs McGrath Systems Inc. in Santa Barbara, Calif. McGrath, an attorney, has surveyed 50,000 school administrators and helped schools remove lousy teachers. Other estimates put the number of bad teachers at around 135,000, or 5% of the total. No one knows the exact number.

However, tenure makes firing bad teachers hard and costly. On average, it takes two to three years to dismiss a tenured teacher. Each case costs about $60,000. Appeals raise the costs.

A '94 study by the New York State School Boards Association found that it takes 455 days and $176,870 on average for a school board to fire a teacher in that state. If the teacher appeals, costs jump to $317,000.

Also, ''the public school bureaucracy controls the state legislatures' education committees,'' said Kay O'Connor, a GOP Kansas state representative. She's also head of the Kansas City-based Parents in Control, a school-reform lobbying group.

''Tenure is a very hot issue,'' she said. ''If a legislator brings it up, it's a battle royal. . . . Unless you're molesting children or robbing banks, you can't be fired. Unions fight for poor-performing teachers because then the schools hire more remedial teachers. More teachers equals more money for the union.''

A tenure reform in place in a few districts is ''peer review.'' Instead of principals watching teachers and deciding whom to fire, teachers evaluate teachers. It's a mentor- protege approach to tenure. Public school supporters see it as a plus. Critics, however, view it as a way for teachers unions to strengthen their hold over schools.

''Unions are aware of the criticism that tenure protects bad teachers,'' said education author Myron Lieberman, head of the Education Policy Institute. ''So, their attitude is, 'We'll take over the process.' If unions take over the review process, it'll make a worse disaster of the schools - if that's possible.'' He added that while such moves appear to be reform, they really aren't - the ''major practical effect will be to extend teacher union control over public education,'' Lieberman said.

About 80% of teachers have tenure. All states and the District of Columbia have tenure laws. The two major unions - the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers - negotiated these rules. The rules vary. However, most states require new teachers to go through a three-to five-year probation. Then they're tenured. Contracts may run to 100 pages.

School boards may try to dismiss a teacher for lots of reasons: incompetence, immorality, unprofessional conduct and, in California and Nevada, for teaching communism. Also, there are state and federal laws that teachers may use to hold onto their jobs or their teaching certificates.

Firing a bad teacher is tough. In Connecticut, for instance, superintendents cannot dismiss teachers without pay. This is ''tantamount to a paid vacation,'' reported the Yankee Institute, a regional think tank.

The suspended teacher gets full salary while the superintendent plans a due process hearing. This takes about six months. At the same time, the school has to pay for a substitute teacher. An Impartial Hearing Panel then must issue a recommendation. The cost of each hearing ranges from $400 to $750.

While this occurs, the teacher, backed by the union and its lawyers, may appeal. This delay raises the school board's costs, often by more than $100,000. Eventually, most schools either pay the teacher off or transfer him.

The Yankee Institute reported that a teacher in Ridgefield, Conn., continued to get a salary of $55,000 while suspended. The school board's hearing and legal costs totaled more than $250,000. The teacher then countersued under federal law, claiming age discrimination and alleged violations of free speech.

Another Connecticut teacher was essentially paid off. She resigned, withdrew her countersuits, and got $200,000 plus severance and legal fees.

''Our tenure laws protect ineffective and unmotivated teachers and administrators,'' said Republican New York state Assemblywoman Debra Mazzarelli. ''Removing a tenured employee from his or her position is so difficult, expensive and time-consuming that for all intents it is impossible.''
Mazzarelli introduced a bill in '97 to replace tenure with five-year renewable contracts. It didn't pass. ''The teachers unions were able to stop this,'' Dave Kinley, deputy executive director of the New York State School Board Association, said.

According to Tampa, Fla.-based Family First: ''Tenure creates an environment where there is simply no incentive to be a good teacher. . . . Serving time is what is rewarded, not teaching excellence. . . . Only truly egregious cases are likely to lead to attempts at dismissal. The reason is simple: It can cost local districts a fortune.''

Teachers may have needed union protection and tenure decades ago because of racial or religious bigotry. But there are so many laws to protect people today, Sambar says, teachers don't need the unions anymore. And the unions know this.

''The unions' mission is teachers, not children,'' said O'Connor, noting that there are more than 50 pro-union education lobbyists at the Kansas Legislature. ''They want as many teachers as possible making as much money as possible. This is why they support smaller classes. It means more teachers, more pay, more money for the union.''

Sambar agrees. ''Good teachers do not need tenure. Poor or incompetent teachers use it to protect their jobs.''
(The article " Unions Defend Bad Teachers" Tenure - At Students' Expense " was written by Michael Chapman,
published and copyrighted by Investor's Business Daily - National Issue.on September 21, 1998.)

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