Firing bad teachers


Diane Ravich, who used to be on the wrong side of school reform but has pretty much come around, was on Forum Jan. 18 talking about education policy. For the most part, she was right on target, explaining that too much of a focus on testing (as a measure of school and teacher accomplishment, not as a diagnostic tool) and too narrow an emphasis on math and reading has damaged public schools.

Neither she nor host Michael Krasny spent much time talking about the bigger problem -- money -- or the fact that other nations that are eclipsing the United State in education actually tax people and spend that money on schools. California has already cut the number of classroom days, and may cut as much as a week out of the school year. That's a huge deal, one that's directly related to the intransigence of a few state legislators who can hold the entire budget hostage -- and to the unwillingness of California residents to amend Prop. 13 and allow reasonable property taxes.

But one of the things that struck me was a caller who complained that tenure was making it impossible to fire bad teachers.

Tenure, Ravich noted, is badly misunderstood. At the college level, it's essentially a lifetime commitment; a college professor gets tenure and he or she understands that, for the most part, it means a career at an institution -- with minimal job requirements. Tenured professors teach a few classes, but are free to spend a lot of time on academic research (without any set requirement for success or publication.)

For K-12 teachers, tenure is just a word meaning that they get due process in employment. It's basically the same as the civil-service rules that San Francisco city employees have -- the right to a hearing on discipline and freedom for arbitrary actions on the part of management.

You think it's hard to fire a teacher? Try firing a cop. The police, who have nothing called "tenure," have more and broader rights than any other public-sector employees, including the right to have all disciplinary matters kept completely secret. And police officers are armed and given the ability to arrest and even shoot people.

So yeah, let's blame the inability to fire teachers. That'll fix the problems. 


if we just tax people more. And more. And more. And more.

Posted by Chromefields on Jan. 19, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

Tenure is not "just a word meaning that they get due process in employment." That's the CTA's talking point.

Every public employee already has due process and Skelly rights. The California Education Code, however, puts up so many barriers to dismissing an ineffective teacher that renders it extraordinarily expensive and makes it nearly impossible to do. Teachers have due proces plus plus plus plus. If you have a procedure that costs a district hundreds of thousands of dollars to dismiss a single teacher, it's not functioning.

Posted by The Commish on Jan. 19, 2012 @ 1:58 pm

What use are they when there are jobs as SFBG reporters and editors that seemingly require neither?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

This relentless demonization of teachers has nothing to do with improving outcomes, and everything to do with corporate enrichment. As former Washington staffer Caroline Arnold said, this is being promoted by right-wing foundations and think tanks to deflect attention from their real goal, which is to take the decision-making power away from local school boards and hand it over to private-sector managers and bureaucrats. The other reason, as Shamus Cooke notes, is that the right-wing is intent on destroying teachers' unions~

"Destroying teacher seniority is...the primary goal of the corporate education reformers. This is the hidden motive behind all the media attention towards 'firing bad teachers.' The reformers want the ability to fire any teacher at any time, consequently undermining teachers’ unions."

"Thus, teachers are supposed to be rewarded — by keeping their jobs or with raises — based on their students’ abilities to achieve high test scores, regardless of the number of children in the classroom, or the poverty level of the students, or whether or not enough classroom materials exist to do the job."

Furthermore, it is simply not true that tenure protects teachers from being fired~

“ [The Washington, D.C.] contract…now makes it possible… to fire any teacher with tenure…if the teacher is evaluated as “ineffective” for one year or “minimally effective” for two years. The criteria used to define “ineffective” or “minimally effective” are, according to another clause, “a nonnegotiable item” determined solely by [school administrators].”

Posted by Lisa on Jan. 19, 2012 @ 7:20 pm

Please explain (a) how many K-12 public school teachers there are in California [hint: the answer is approximately 313,000]; (b) how many were terminated for unsatisfactory performance last year.

I believe that the answer to (b) is less than 10. Out of 313,000. Please point to any organization in the history of the world where such a system is in effect.

Every other state -- even Illionois, a union friendly state -- is reforming its tenure system. California is the hold out.

Posted by The Commish on Jan. 19, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

How many cops were terminated for unsatisfactory performance last year? You have any figures on that?

And as for these blanket claims... I don't have time to look up all 50 states, but my brother's a teacher in Seattle, and last I heard there aren't any plans to take away tenure there. My guess is that it's closer to a handful of states rather than every one but California, but I'll leave it to you to provide evidence since you're the one who made the assertion.

The problem with these reforms is that the devil is always in the details. Most of the time, it's a thinly veiled attempt to bust unions and take away job security. And how exactly do you judge "satisfactory performance" anyway? Scores on some standardized test?

Posted by Greg on Jan. 19, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

Let me give you some insight because what you consider a "bad" teacher and what school administrators consider a bad teacher are probably very different.

Consider, for example, a high school math teacher that (1) shows movies every day, (2) makes no effort to teach his students, (3) allows them to wander around the halls and falsifies their attendance, and (4) gives every student a passing grade in spite of the fact that they learned nothing.

Most of us would consider this a "bad" teacher. However, too many administrators do not. In the past 8 years, I have worked with four of these teachers at my school. Three of them were allowed to retire with full benefits. The fourth is a current favorite of the administration. I could share more horror stories about other favorites of admin.

Administrators consider a bad teacher to be one who expects students to behave appropriately because this forces admin to deal with unruly students and their parents. A bad teacher is one who grades according to how much the students have learned because this also forces them to deal with students and their parents, and it negatively affects graduation rates. A bad teacher is one who is educated in their subject and practice because it makes the insecure admin feel threatened.

If you want to improve teaching, the first step is to fix administrators.

Posted by C. Gillotte on Apr. 25, 2012 @ 11:22 pm

Why is there no discussion as to if there are really that many bad teachers, particularly those with tenure. It seems as if the objection is to having tenure as a hedge against firing bad teachers, it's a theoretical position based on modeling public policy on private sector values. It has little to do with bad teachers but to an underlying agenda to privatize the educational system.

Posted by Guest mark young on Jun. 27, 2012 @ 3:07 pm