- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

Public school teachers enjoy airtight job security, which can lead to shortchanged students, many education advocates say.

Most teachers are union members, so they are lifers, says Guy Strickland, an educational counselor in Los Angeles and author of "Bad Teachers: The Essential Guide for Concerned Parents."

"It's almost impossible to fire a teacher," Mr. Strickland says. "You cannot go to a principal and say you have a bad teacher, because he may not believe you. But more likely he knows he's got a bad teacher, and he cannot admit it. He won't tell you that dozens of parents have complained over the years."

A principal may employ any number of strategies to protect a teacher, Mr. Strickland says.

"One of the ways is to stonewall," he says. "He'll deny there's a problem. There used to be ways he could get rid of a bad teacher transfer her to the library, or something like that. But because of budget cuts, there's nothing available like that now."

Tenured teachers really do not need to succeed in their classrooms because their jobs are guaranteed, agrees Kay O'Connor, a Kansas state senator and executive director of Parents in Control, a nationwide network devoted to educating people about school reform.

"Tenure was instituted to protect university professors from being squeezed out for having politically incorrect opinions," she says. "Tenure protects their freedom of expression. There's no such protection of thought needed at the K through 12 level. They have it because the unions have insisted upon it. The way a teacher union makes money is to have lots of teachers. … It's just business."

Actually, all states have a tenure system, says Naomi Gittins, a staff attorney at the National School Boards Association. The system usually is specified in state law and stipulates that teachers will acquire specific rights after they have completed a certain number of satisfactory years of employment. Generally, that number is three to five years.

"But it's inaccurate to say you can never get rid of a teacher," Ms. Gittins says. "Usually, the reasons a school district can terminate a teacher are identified in the statute: incompetent, committed a felony, done something immoral, consistent insubordination. It can't be that the community doesn't like the teacher."

"Put everything in writing," District of Columbia PTA President Linda Moody says. "The average parent's goal is to get their child removed from that person's class. … But in the long run, what you really want is to get the teacher dismissed, because they're not only harming your child but other children, as well."

Ms. Moody, whose district comprises 96 PTAs, says a principal who disregards the complaints of parents is shirking his duties.

"In some instances, people are not doing what they were hired to do. There are good principals who will do what they're supposed to be doing, and there are those who won't. … I do know that some principals are waiting for someone to file a complaint on a person who they know is incompetent."

Dismissing a teacher requires administrators to observe a system of evaluation, says John Nori, director of school leadership services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

It's "lengthy and time-consuming. It's designed as a method not only to protect the teacher but ensuring there's a thorough review of the teacher," he says.

Many school districts offer services that reach out to teachers who need help.

Montgomery County, for example, instituted its "Teacher Evaluation System" during the 2000-01 school year. The system provides mentoring and support to underperforming teachers and those new to the profession.

Under the auspices of this program, ineffective teachers are referred to a consulting teacher who works to help the underperforming teacher improve. The mentor teacher then advises a group of appointed teachers and administrators empowered to make a final recommendation to the superintendent regarding dismissal.


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