It’s unsurprising that the Tribune would spin this to make it look as bad as possible. The paragraph at the top of the chart describes the process of firing a bad teacher as “a legal process so cumbersome, so tangled in red tape, that many public school principals don’t even try.”
Charts such as this one are misleading for a number of reasons.
First, this chart only applies to tenured teachers. Bad teachers can be weeded out much quicker before gaining tenure. School officials need to use this time window appropriately.
Second, the point of tenure is to protect teachers from arbitrarily being fired. Teachers need protection from over-zealous bosses and ideological politicians. This is the same thinking behind seniority rules, which protect more expensive teachers (i.e. veterans) from being laid off due to budget cuts. Teaching is not a high-paying job compared to jobs in the private sector, and one of the benefits is some job security. Occasionally this means bad teachers take longer to fire.
But the answer to that problem is not making all teachers easier to fire. This would undermine teacher recruitment. If you take away pensions, job security, tenure, the ability to unionize, and basically all the other perks of teaching, what you’re left with is a very difficult job with no job security, mediocre benefits, and relatively low pay. This is not how you attract good people to a profession, or how you guarantee a good education experience for your children. Paying starting teachers more but making their long-term prospects in the career less certain is also wrong-headed. High turnover is not desirable for any business, teaching included.
Third, the chart claims that it take 2-5 years to fire a bad teacher. This is true, but also misleading. The process requires one year of remediation. Is anyone suggesting that a remedial period is unwarranted? Many private sector jobs require similar remedial steps for ‘unsatisfactory’ employees. These steps take longer and are more complicated as the job in question becomes more difficult to assess. Successful teaching is very difficult to assess.
Then there are a series of hearings. This is the due process period put in place to ensure that the actual reasons behind firing the teacher are legitimate. Is the Tribune suggesting that there should be no hearing process at all? Even then, the hearings only take place if the teacher requests them. Many teachers will not put up this much of a fight, but some do.
The hearings take about ten months. Much of this time is spent filing paperwork, setting dates, and so forth. At the end of the ten months, if the School board agrees with the dismissal, the teacher is fired. That’s just under two years, most of which was spent attempting to boost the teacher’s performance. So in just under two years a teacher can be fired. However…
…at this point the teacher can file an appeal in court. This is where the Tribune is getting the vast bulk of time for its 2-5 years estimate. Again, any citizen who loses their job as the right to take this up in court. That there is a procedure outlined for teachers to do this is completely meaningless. Of course a teacher can file for wrongful dismissal in court. So can you if you are fired. This process can take years if you want to drag it out long enough, through appellate courts and a long and exhausting appeals process.
For those criticizing this process, would you deny Francisco Mendoza the right to appeal his termination? Mendoza was a 25-year veteran of the Chicago public schools, widely acknowledged as an excellent teacher. He took sick leave when he was diagnosed with cancer, and when he returned home he found a termination letter. Apparently the year of remedial work was overlooked in this case. Indeed, for every anecdote of bad teachers not getting fired, we can find others to show how excellent teachers were fired.
And if all that isn’t enough, a tiny bit of digging reveals that Chicago school district officials laid off 1300 teachers in 2010, including some tenured teachers who were recognized nationally for their quality – without any due process at all.
If people actually look beyond the NY Post headlines, they might understand that it is actually quite easily to get rid of "bad teachers."
I have seen three different principals get rid of teachers they didn't want at my school.
It doesn't happen often, but then again, the assistant principals are careful about who they hire.
When the axe does fall, it often happens before tenure is awarded, as Kain notes is easiest to do, but I have seen it done to tenured senior teachers too - albeit, just a couple.
Nonetheless, the argument that it is so difficult to get rid of "bad teachers" just doesn't hold water.
The "bad teacher" argument is very simply being used by corporate education reformers and their shills in the media to allow states and cities to fire teachers at will at any time for any reason. Once seniority and tenure is disposed of, states and cities will routinely lay off or fire expensive veteran teachers NO MATTER THEIR "QUALITY."
That's the truth. That's what often happens in the private sector and the corporatists who like those conventions there want to bring them to the public sector as well.
The jive of it is that the corporate reformers say, as the NYCDOE likes to state, that they put "Children First...Always" when the EXACT opposite is true.
Lowering class size, providing safe, clean academic environments, ridding the schools of bed bugs, PCB's and other dangers, providing healthy food, and allowing teachers to teach a diverse, interesting curricula that inspires a love of learning is putting children first.
What the corporate ed deformers are doing is putting cost first.