Tuesday, March 14, 2006

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Teacher Tenure:
Does Job Protection Go Too Far
And Cost Too Much?

Sex, violence, child abuse, theft, arson, forgery . . . is it a soap opera, or the latest Oscar-winning movie plot? Nooooo. It’s case summaries from the Nebraska Professional Practices Commission. That’s the hearing board which handles cases of teacher license revocations, suspensions, reprimands and so forth.

It makes for interesting reading on

What’s striking is to keep in mind that there are more than 20,000 active educators at any given time on the job in Nebraska’s schools. Yet the case summaries show that only a relative handful have gotten as far as the Commission in the past 15 years. Fewer still have had their teaching licenses revoked.

And fewer than that had to be fired from their jobs. In fact, an education insider once told me that you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of teachers fired “for cause” in this state. He didn’t mean in a given year. He meant EVER.

Teacher tenure clearly is an area of Nebraska education policy that deserves a hard look. Iowa recently did away with secret buyouts that had been going on, out-of-court settlements to prevent a protracted court battle even when a district had the goods, hands down, on an incompetent teacher.

But finding information on teacher dismissals is difficult, as Nebraska’s accountability structure is one of the laxest in the country when it comes to informing the public on teachers who don’t make the grade.

Take a look at what an investigative reporter found out in the State of Illinois. This article is from GoBigEd’s sister website,

Why shouldn’t the Nebraska Department of Education be revealing this same information about teacher tenure, evaluation, dismissal and litigation to us? It should. In a crucial public service like education, in which personnel is the most important consideration, it’s a crying shame that the public doesn’t know more about quality control.


(from Hot Potatoes, 3/14/06, www.DailySusan.com)

Teacher Tenure: How Costly Is It?

Everybody knows it’s a shame that bad teachers can keep their jobs for life unless they’re caught in the act of committing a felony – or it seems that way – while good teachers can’t even get a modest bonus for doing outstanding work in the classroom.

But that’s the effect of teacher tenure laws, often union-promulgated and protected. There’s a huge veil of secrecy over teacher dismissals in most states. The public has no idea how few educators, who are, after all, public-sector employees paid with tax funds, are ever dismissed for cause from their jobs. In most school districts, bad teachers are shifted from school to school in what’s called “the dance of the lemons,” or given secret buyouts at taxpayer expense. Only taxpayers are never told this is going on.

An investigation in Illinois has shed new light on teacher tenure, and produced stunning statistics that ought to be taken to heart in statehouses coast to coast.

The State of Illinois has an estimated 95,500 tenured educators working in public schools in 875 districts. But over the past several years, on average, only seven have had their dismissals approved by a state hearing officer. That’s an indication that it is just too hard to get rid of incompetent and immoral teachers in that state, according to an exhaustive investigation by Scott Reeder, statehouse bureau chief for the Small Newspaper Group.

Reeder’s review of data revealed by 1,500 Freedom of Information Act requests also showed that only one of every 930 job-performance evaluations of tenured teachers resulted in an unsatisfactory rating, and only 50 percent of those with bad ratings actually leave teaching.

Reeder reported that in the past 18 years, 94% of Illinois school districts have never even attempted to fire anyone with tenure. In the past decade, his reporting revealed, 84% of Illinois school districts have never even rated a tenured teacher as unsatisfactory.

In one alarming case, a woman said she had become pregnant by her assistant principal when she was 14 and in seventh grade. A blood test indicated there was a greater than 99% likelihood that he was the father. But still, the education system’s hearing officer ruled that there was insufficient evidence to dismiss the man, saving him his job. He kept it for another nine years until a DNA test showed an even greater likelihood that he was the father. His teaching certificate was suspended, but not revoked, and he is paying child support.

In related reporting, Reeder found in campaign finance records that the two Illinois teachers’ unions had contributed $16 million to statehouse campaigns in the last 12 years, the first and third largest contributors statewide. Unions are the major defender of education employee tenure systems that appear to greatly favor the rights of the educator over everything and everyone else, including children.

Because of union pressures and litigation costs, Reeder learned that the going rate to dismiss a teacher has now topped $100,000 in attorney’s fees alone. In Geneseo, Ill., reportedly the school district has had to spend more than $400,000 in attorney’s fees in attempting to dismiss one educator, according to Reeder’s reporting.

The reporter uncovered settlement deals that are kept secret from the public, and for good reason: for example, in return for one educator’s resignation, the school board promised to remove any reference to an Illinois Department of Children and Family Services investigation and all unsatisfactory job evaluations from his personnel file, and pay him $30,000.

Reeder’s series ended with an editorial calling for much better public disclosure and accountability about job dismissal actions, as well as:

-- quicker and smoother dismissals
-- an end to secret buyouts
-- extra pay for teachers whose students show the most improvement while in their classrooms
-- more school choice so that parents can “punish” schools that harbor incompetent teachers by taking their enrollment dollars elsewhere
-- and the replacement of property tax as a school funding source in favor of a new income tax, which the newspapers contend would be fairer.

You can view the series of stories on

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