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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press It is Possible to Fire Tenured Teachers

It is Possible to Fire Tenured Teachers

Tuesday, 01 February 2011 05:54
This is a point that would have been worth stating clearly in an article on efforts by many Republican governors to eliminate teacher tenure. In every jurisdiction that has tenure, teachers who are demonstrated to be incompetent can be removed from the classroom and fired. However administrators must take the time to document that a teacher is incompetent before they can be fired. Many school administrators choose not to bother with the effort to remove under-performing teachers.
Comments (10)Add Comment
Ending Tenure
written by Ron Alley, February 01, 2011 6:18
The Republican efforts to end tenure suggest a false choice -- ending tenure vs. firing bad teachers -- and hide the real objective.

Tenure in most states does not give teachers a lifetime no-cut contract putting teachers in a position nearly as secure as federal judges. Tenure merely gives teachers an expectation of continuing employment and establishes due process requirements for ending a teacher's employment. Republicans, and school administrators, hate due process statutes that require actual evidence of misconduct or poor performance and provide hearings in which a third party weighs the evidence and permits the teacher to defend her conduct.

The real issue is teacher pay. School districts have long hired teachers at low starting salaries and offered a clear set of salary increases tied to years of teaching experience (seniority) and increased education. The result has been teachers staying on the job, going to graduate school at night and during the summer thereby increasing their salaries. School administrators hate the fact that they cannot resolve their budget problems by firing their highest salaried teachers and hiring newbies. After all, that is what corporations routinely do.

School administrator hate standing up to school boards to defend teachers who teach biology (including evolution) effectively because the school administrators do not themselves have tenure and its due process protections.

These underlying, and unspoken issues, would be the headline and the theme of any well researched article.
First Movers Deemed First Losers by Republicans
written by izzatzo, February 01, 2011 6:40
From the NYT article, this quote:
In New York City, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has campaigned aggressively for the state to end “last in, first out” protections for teachers.

In a dramatic change of heart for how markets should work after getting into office, Republican governors have decided that First Movers is part of an Obama Communist Competition movement that must be stopped immediately, declaring it to be instead a First Losers movement.

When asked if this included the mountain of tenured concentrated monopoly wealth held by the First Losers who put them in office, Republicans noted that government is here to to serve the people and not the other way around as spewed in big commie lies by Whose Your Nanny Baker.
We all remember crappy teachers
written by BradyDale, February 01, 2011 9:35
The crappy teacher at my high school was named Smitty. She was terrible. Everyone joked about how Smitty's idea of teaching was to show a video and pass out a worksheet. That's what she did every day. Show a video. Pass out a worksheet.


The idea that tenure is intractable is perpetuated, I think, by the fact that everyone can point out someone like this.
written by Sarabelle, February 01, 2011 12:46
I think you're wrong on this one. Tenure is the main obstacle to teachers being fired, although collective bargaining successes at making firing all but impossible is also a factor. Some analysis of statistics on this topic would ahve helped.
written by urban legend, February 01, 2011 3:03
The notion that it is so frightfully difficult to fire a poor teacher is simply false -- and I speak from inside knowledge of how it works. Yes, it is important to have more than hearsay, gossip and the opinion of a principal that may be suspect in its motivation, but reasonable evidence collected in a careful process will work.

Beyond success or failure in an actual formal process, however, the majority of teachers merely threatened with a termination-for-cause will choose not to fight and will resign.

Further, look at the high turnover in the profession: some of those are people who simply want to make more money, but the majority are those who find out they are just not cut out for that kind of job. It's performing, often on your feet, for 7 hours a day, doing paperwork and preparation for another three hours, going to meetings or talking with students and parents at least another hour or two on average. It's a 10-12 hour day routinely for about 200 days out of the year -- a shorter period of work in a year than most, yes, but far more time-consuming and intense during that period than for most workers, too. It's may not be a uniquely difficult job, but it's not an easy one either.

All a union can do is offer to represent the teacher if he or she wants it, and demand that the due process required is followed. Somebody please tell me what's wrong with requiring a bit of due process to show there is good cause for the termination before someone is thrown out on the streets? Rather than resenting it for teachers (or other public service workers or unionized workers) because employers in the private sector can fire non-union workers on little notice for any reason or no reason at all, shouldn't we be fighting for all workers to have similar rights? After all, other countries manage to do it, and still out-perform the U.S. economically. If we are so "exceptional," how come we can't figure that out, too?

The whole notion that our educational failures are the fault of poor or unmotivated teachers is rank propaganda -- and one easily bought into by so-called liberals especially when, as with President Obama, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee and the shameless director of "Waiting for Superman," they have had the benefit of expensive private-school educations and virtually no experience in actual public schools.

Varies by school district
written by Melissa, February 02, 2011 6:48
Dean, I think you stepped out of your area of expertise on this one. How hard it is to prove a tenured teacher is incompetent to fire them varies by school district. I taught in LAUSD many years ago, and my husband taught in St Louis public schools more recently. In both, you'd pretty much have to prove the teacher committed a crime to fire them. In the wealthier suburban school districts, it was a different story (literally, as my knowledge of those is more second hand from news reports and parents of students there).
written by PeonInChief, February 02, 2011 9:40
We seem intent on insuring that every worker in the country must engage in the sort of forelock-tugging that died out in the British countryside in, oh, about 1870.
written by Unsympathetic, February 02, 2011 12:31
Urban Legend:
Unions are absolutely NOT just there to fight for teachers.

Unions exist to demand incomprehensibly high salaries, pensions, and benefits from the citizens they work for. In an economy when private sector workers do not have a pension, teachers whimsically expect those private sector workers to willingly increase their own taxes to pay for your pension. Also, the pension "contract" extorted from town leaders at the threat of a strike DEMANDS returns far above anything remotely possible on the open market.. no safe mutual fund is above 4-5% right now yet most teacher pensions demand 8%. The added risk is a hidden tax increase, because when the investments crater (as they inevitably will.. that's the definition of risk), taxpayers are once again on the hook for teachers' payouts.

This battle over pensions is worthy of a fight - 100% of the time. I will never be voting for a tax increase in my life to pay for the gratuitously bloated teachers' salaries and benefits.
Teacher Union
written by Jeff Z, February 03, 2011 1:36

Right. And I don't pay extra for the bloated bonuses of incompetent financiers and idiotic bankers.

written by zinc, February 04, 2011 5:17

IMO, the quality of the teachers is a minor problem when compared to over-crowded classrooms and the carnage created by the gutless, political animals that dominate the over-staffed, over-compensated school district administrations across the country. Give these nit whits the power to fire at will, they will go after the best teachers first. Find any successful program in the country and you will find competent administration and smaller class sizes.

The whole country has been on a dis-information binge since Ron Reagan (aka Chance Gardner; see Peter Sellers) convinced us that up was down and night was day.

The latest example is BA in Basket Weaving, Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, masquerading as an economist with the stature of Keynes, Galbraith, etc. We are receiving our just deserts.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.