- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2005


Four of every 10 teachers hired in city school systems have something troubling in common: They may not be wanted by the schools that hired them.

Urban principals often are forced to hire poor performers or teachers who are just not a good fit, a national study says, because of union rules that give preference to veteran teachers.

Overall, as many as 40 percent of urban teachers are hired with little or no choice on the part of their principals, the New Teacher Project says. The group works with some of the largest urban school systems to recruit and hire teachers.

“It’s hard to make the argument that we should hold principals accountable if they don’t have say over what their staff looks like,” said Michelle Rhee, president of the project.

The problem is so pervasive that some principals hide job vacancies until the unwanted teachers are placed in other schools, knowing such deception can give them a hiring edge, the group says.

The American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in most large cities, said hiring problems have more to do with school district mismanagement than union contracts.

“The AFT has contracts all over the country in cities like Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Toledo that do a much better job of addressing the issues raised in the study,” said Antonia Cortese, the executive vice president of the union.

Schools often must hire teachers who have seniority and want to transfer between schools, or who need a position because they have lost a teaching job to budget cuts. Some of those teachers are poor performers who get passed from one school to another, the study says.

Such conclusions, rejected by teachers unions, are based on analyses of five districts that provided access and candor in exchange for anonymity. Two have identified themselves: New York City and San Diego.

Report authors say their findings are nationally representative.

One board member of the New Teacher Project, Adam Urbanski, is the president of the teachers union in Rochester, N.Y. He resigned from the project yesterday in protest of recommendations in the report that he said would erode job security for qualified teachers.

“They have gone so far in discounting qualified internal candidates that, if these ideas are adopted, they would substantially increase instability within schools,” he said.

Yet Miss Rhee said the findings show how limited principals are in making arguably their most important decision: hiring teachers. School districts bear responsibility, too, she said, for agreeing to terms with teachers unions that may not serve their students well.

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