Problem teachers dig in; NYC lawyers up

How many lawyers does it take to eject an underperforming teacher from a Gotham classroom? Apparently quite a few:

The Bloomberg administration is beginning a drive to remove unsatisfactory teachers, hiring new teams of lawyers and consultants who will help principals build cases against tenured teachers who they believe are not up to the job. …

At the center of the effort is a new Teacher Performance Unit of five lawyers, headed by a former prosecutor fresh from convicting a former private school principal who had a sexual relationship with a student….

The plans, at a cost of $1 million a year [including five additional consultants whose job includes documenting underperformance], are described in a memo and an accompanying letter to principals from Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. In the letter, he urged principals to help teachers improve but added, “When action must be taken, the disciplinary system for tenured teachers is so time-consuming and burdensome that what is already a stressful task becomes so onerous that relatively few principals are willing to tackle it. As a result, in a typical year only about one-hundredth of 1 percent of tenured teachers are removed for ineffective performance.

“This issue simply must be tackled,” he wrote. …

Randi Weingarten, the president of the city’s teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, called the lawyers a “teacher gotcha unit” and said she found it “disgusting” that the Education Department would issue such a memo after the release of new school report cards that bluntly grade schools A through F.

(cross-posted from Point of Law). More: Jane Genova isn’t a fan of the initiative (Nov. 27).


  • So they’re helping principals get rid of teachers they don’t like. How is that connected to anything objective or any professional qualifications?

    For example, why wouldn’t they just get rid of all the experienced teachers and teachers with Ph.Ds and master’s degrees, because they cost more? You can dig up dirt on anybody and make anybody look bad, as long as you’re not comparing every case side by side.

  • What’s that? Lawyers actually contributing to the common good? Thinning the herd? There must be a conspiracy in the works. Where’s the hidden motive? I know it’s around here somewhere.

  • So they’re helping principals get rid of teachers they don’t like. How is that connected to anything objective or any professional qualifications?

    No, they are trying to get rid of incompotent teachers, teachers that are unprofessional in that they do not comply with professional standards (such as the teacher that sent explicit emails to his 16 year old student and then took 6 years of litigation to get rid of him,) and teachers that have committed crimes.

    Here is a link to a flow chart that shows the steps needed to get rid of a teacher – even one that has committed a crime – in New York.

    How To Fire A Teacher In New York

  • no Stewart, at least not in theory (in practice it will be abused for that of course).
    It’s meant to get rid of teachers who don’t do a proper job of teaching.

  • Mr. Peterson,

    Rather than throwing about wild conjectures about why the NYC School System is reduced to such actions, do a little research about problem. You might want to start with a copy of the flow chart of the steps necessary to actually terminate a bad employee from the system. Then you might want to check out the dollars wasted on herding these miscreants into a central holding room all the while receiving full salaries. Then finally, no doubt with your curiosity peaked, find out why they are there, what crimes they have committed to end up being paid for doing nothing. Nothing except being a dues paying union member, a union whose sole function appears to be getting a contract that makes it all but impossible to get rid of the “bad apples.” Then you might, maybe not, but you might conclude that there should be easier, cheaper, faster ways to rid a school system of such employees, but apparently there aren’t so all that can be said that at least this is an honest attempt to fix the problem.

  • Bumper: Sorry, but it’s “curiosity piqued”. I was born with a pedant gene, can’t help it.

  • Y’all are missing the point: there is no agreed-upon definition of “bad teacher.”

    As the son of a Chicago teacher–who, BTW, has a master’s degree and a Ph.D, is National Board Certified, has been teaching for 35 years, wrote a book on how to teach, runs her school’s curriculum and professional development programs, and moonlights as a college teaching methods instructor (in other words, as qualified as you can get and thus at the top of the pay scale)–as someone who has seen this teacher in action in the classroom, and as someone who sat in on more than a few of her college classes, I think I might have some information.

    I want to kick teachers who don’t teach as far from the classroom as possible. Believe me, I share your goals. Unfortunately, communism had some nice goals, too, and we all know how that worked out.

    Good teachers essentially follow a communications model for instruction and use statistically and logically sound assessment (grading) techniques. Unfortunately, practically nobody does. These people cannot be simply fired because there would not be enough teachers; that, however, is not my point.

    My point stems from the fact that this teacher was forced out of her position as English department chair at a struggling inner-city school in June 1984–because the slightly unscrewed principal thought she was an FBI agent, planted to ensure that his students didn’t get an education. Why?
    Because she was such a good teacher, with no disciplinary record, and she was (still is) white and was teaching in an essentially 100% black school instead of a nice, rich school in the suburbs. The school wasn’t improving, because even the best teachers couldn’t make up for the lack of a social support system for these kids, and the principal’s response was to attempt to fire every white teacher in the English department, as an experiment.

    Actually, if you think about it, principals and other administrators are likely to be worse than the general teaching population–where is the most likely place they would put people who can’t teach but sure can push paper?

    I admire the goals and I understand and appreciate the intent, but you guys just aren’t thinking this through. Y’all of all people should be able to figure out that giving incompetents with axes to grind access to lawyers is going to result in abuse. I have no doubt about why NYC is doing this, and it’s for a good purpose–but it’s subject to *so* much potential abuse that it’s not worth it at all. Once the lawyers get their hands on things, those who get fired will be the easy targets and the unpopular people, not the problems.

    I leave you with this: the above teacher is known around the school where she works as being impatient with people whose idea of good teaching is keeping a class quiet while giving tests on material which one has not taught. This includes most of the administration–what happens if the principal decides that she’s too much of a problem and decides to get a lawyer to dig up everything they can and spill it all over the front page of the local newspapers? Do you think said lawyer would do anything but polemicize and mislead?

  • Y’all are missing the point: there is no agreed-upon definition of “bad teacher.”

    There may not be an over all definition of “bad teacher,” but I would hope that we can agree on the fact the teachers that send 16 year olds sexually explicit emails, or teachers that steal, or teachers that touch a child inappropriately are “bad teachers.”

    It appears that you have let the experience of your mother cloud your judgement here in that you believe that since in your mother’s case there was an abuse of the system, that such an abuse would occur in all cases. (Of course, it is interesting to not that the termination process in NYC starts with documentation of disciplinary actions – something you say your mother never had. In other words, you are comparing apples and oranges.)

    The disciplinary system in NYC is so overburdened and stretched to the breaking point that teachers who cannot teach because of the union contract, are being paid an estimated $40 million a year in salary, and that doesn’t include the costs of substitute teachers to cover their classes.

    You say that there may be abuses in trying to get rid of “bad teachers.” I say that the bad teachers are already abusing the system.

  • The real problem in this case is applying the principal’s discretion to find these bad teachers.

    I do not at all think that there would be an abuse of the system on the part of the principal in all cases, and there would be many cases for which this process would work–BUT there’s no reason to create a system that is seemingly designed to be abused, and any system that provides public funding for one stakeholder to go after another with an experienced legal team is going to be abused, as readers of this blog presumably know. If you create a system that allows or encourages abuse with no consequences, that abuse will happen, regardless of all the cases in which the system could potentially be applied fairly and effectively.

    If the “disciplinary actions” are bogus, it doesn’t matter whether they’re documented or not. A former prosecutor is certainly aggressive and clever enough to make a case out of thin air, cherry-picking allegations that sound terrible extracted from their context, and certainly is not going to present their case in comparison to others. Is the teacher concerned one of the worst in the system, or are they at the 60th percentile a la Ford Pinto? There’s no way to tell from the information that will be presented.

  • John Burgess, Quite right you are and I knew better, but in my zeal to respond I neglected to proof read. My bad, apologizes all around.

    Now back to the topic:

    Stewart Peterson, not to get into a pissing contest, but I am the son of a educator of educators (who, if he had only been Catholic, based on his advanced degrees could have qualified to be a Jesuit), one son who is an educator on the high school level and I spent 38 years working with K-12 systems, public and private, throughout the Sun Belt. I have friends who are/were teachers and administrators in the NYC system. When John Stossel did a piece for 20-20 about this very subject I spoke with some of them, to a person they agreed with his take on the problem.

    In NYC schools the unions have, by contract, gamed the system to where it is all but impossible to fire an employee, no matter how bad their crime. I am led to believe that things are so bad in NYC that most administrators don’t have time to go after the good employees (but I am sure that sometimes it happens, the innocent getting caught in an evil scheme happens, just ask the boys from the Duke lacrosse team) I can’t speak to every school system in every town, but bad teachers are easy to spot, but extremely difficult to get rid of. Given the severity of the problem in NYC I doubt seriously they will be spending a great deal of time on the “threat to my authority” cases. They are dealing with millions of dollars going down the drain, for nothing, for the bad eggs to sit in a room all day long and draw a paycheck because the system can’t fire them.

    So while my sympathies go to your English Department example, that was then and this is now. The steps outlined in Walter’s article are but a tip of the iceberg response to the problem, it is probably more for show than go, but they have to start somewhere. This problem is a cancer that isn’t going to cure itself.

    And John Burgess, please accept my apology in advance. Quite probably something in the above, still not proofed, will injure your grammatical senses.

  • Mr Paterson,

    You apparently cannot comprehend that abuses are possible at BOTH ends of the spectrum: there have been (and are) places where principles abusing their teachers is the primary problem, BUT there are ALSO places where the primary problem (far and away) is unfirable teachers. NYC is far, far, FAR down this road, to the point that (if you bother to check what has been repeatedly mentioned here), teachers who should be fired (that is, even you would completely agree that they should be) are simply taken out of the classroom and left on the payroll. THAT IS NUTS.

    Whether the system is being abused or not, paying a bunch of people to sit and twiddle their thumbs, because that’s cheaper than firing them, is a serious problem that must be dealt with.

  • The real problem in this case is applying the principal’s discretion to find these bad teachers.

    So your point seems to be that principals are incompetent in the area of what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. If that is the case, then the next step is to give the principals the help they need to look at the situation, see if it meets certain criteria, and help document the problems – which is what this system does.

    BUT there’s no reason to create a system that is seemingly designed to be abused, and any system that provides public funding for one stakeholder to go after another with an experienced legal team is going to be abused, as readers of this blog presumably know.

    You do realize, of course, that the union has an experienced legal team?

    If the “disciplinary actions” are bogus, it doesn’t matter whether they’re documented or not.

    Of course it matters. This is a statement which demonstrates a lack of understanding of the current process specifically, and union / management relations in general.

    The bottom line Mr Paterson, is that your position seems to be that since according to you, there is no way to ever determine teachers that are “bad” (ie failing to fulfill professional requirements, abusing kids, committing crimes, etc) we should just let them do what they will without consequences.

    In other words, the mother that you used as an example of teacher to be honored (and it sounds like she should be) is the same as the guy who emailed explicit sexual emails to a 16 year old student. There is no difference. Pay them the same – compensate them the same. Nothing is different.

    If there is no way in your world to differentiate the “bad” teachers, there is no way to extol the outstanding teachers as well.