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Rotten apple for teacher

December 6, 2005

If you suspected that it’s hard to fire an incompetent schoolteacher, you are right:

The (Small newspaper group) investigation found only 7 percent of the state’s 876 school systems have attempted to fire a tenured teacher since the mid-1980s, when Illinois passed a landmark school-reform act designed to promote teacher accountability. Of those attempts, 62 percent of districts were successful in terminating the tenured educator.

Of the more than 95,000 tenured teachers employed in the state, an average of only two per year are fired for poor job performance, the investigation found. Another five per year on average are dismissed for misconduct.
- State Journal-Register Online, Illinois public schools rarely fire tenured teachers

Well there’s a shocker.  It calls to mind one of my kids’ Spanish teachers, who couldn’t speak (and could barely read) Spanish.  Or another of my kids’ teachers with kids failing her math class who were making A’s in all their other classes, and who claimed the kids were the problem.  Or another of their teachers who humiliated one of my kids’ friends in front of the class for having yellow teeth.  She won “Illinois Teacher of the Year” and received a grant.  Or the science teacher who once told one of my kids that the reason the equator was warmer than the poles is “it’s closer to the sun.”  I could write more examples, and we put only three kids through the system.

The investigators said that strong teacher’s unions and high legal costs “often scare many school districts from getting rid of even the worst tenured teachers.” The investigation is part of a six-part series, unfolding at hiddencostsoftenure.com.  Obviously the investigators have an axe to grind, but it’s damned interesting reading.  I would not think it ‘anti-teacher’ in any way to ask teachers to be good employees, know their subjects, and exercise good professional judgment.

Tenure is a nice idea, and there are a few really brilliant teachers out there who need the protection it offers.  But my experience suggests the reverse is not uncommon; really bad teachers who say, in effect, “What are you going to do?  I have tenure!”

Is it any surprise local school districts and teacher’s unions dispute the study?  Jim Dougherty, president of the Illinois Federation of teachers, said “so few teachers are fired because so few need to be.”

Well there you have it.

Categories: Education