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teacher tenure

An arbitrator has reinstated 75 teachers dismissed by the Washington, D.C. school system during their 2-year probationary period — not after achieving tenure — for such infractions as perennial absence or tardiness, “rude and aggressive” behavior and “sketchy or nonexistent lesson plans.” “[Arbitrator Charles] Feigenbaum said that the teachers had been denied due process because they were not given reasons for their terminations. It’s a mind-boggling decision that essentially affords probationary teachers some of the rights that protect tenured teachers.” [Washington Post editorial] For another indication of the legal constraints on employee selection faced by the D.C. schools, see this 2001 post.


Julie Mack, Kalamazoo Gazette (via Mark Hemingway, Examiner):

In 1993, Chelsea High School teacher Stephen Leith shot to death his superintendent and wounded his principal and another teacher during a confrontation at the school. Leith was convicted of homicide and given a life sentence; from prison, he continued to pursue an appeal of his firing from Chelsea Public Schools, blaming his actions on medication.
“He murdered his superintendent. It’s crazy,” said Tom White, associate director of labor relations for [the] Michigan School Board Association.


“An Ohio public school teacher accused of burning the mark of a cross on students’ arms said Friday he dropped a lawsuit over his firing because it would have interfered with a public airing of his complaint in a different venue.” [AP via Ed Brayton, earlier]

Press coverage of the “rubber rooms” was just too embarrassing, though it’s not clear that the new arrangements will solve much [Tabarrok; earlier here, here, etc.]

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After announcing a big campaign to oust bad teachers, New York City has succeeded in firing only three in two years; ten others “settled their cases by resigning or retiring”. There are 55,000 tenured teachers in the city system. [Jennifer Medina, New York Times; Matt Welch, Reason "Hit and Run"] More: New York Times “Room for Debate”.


Los Angeles has trouble getting rid of problem teachers too [L.A. Weekly, Brian Doherty/KCET] Our post a couple of weeks ago about New York City’s “rubber room” stirred considerable comment.

How bad do these stories get? This bad. More: Radley Balko on a Hoboken cop; and commenter VMS criticizes the linked New York Post report.


A dismissed teacher’s case against the school system in Lowell is now before Massachusetts’s Supreme Judicial Court. Phanna Rem Robishaw, a native of Cambodia originally hired to teach bilingual programs, had received favorable evaluations for years but received an unsatisfactory rating in English fluency after the state began requiring that teachers be tested on that skill. An arbitrator reinstated her but a state court judge reversed the reinstatement, terming her performance on an interview test tape “utterly incomprehensible”. Robishaw’s lawyer says the arbitrator excluded the tape from evidence and that the judge should not have considered it, and that the judge failed to observe the presumption against overturning arbitration results. “In 2002, Massachusetts’ voters passed Question 2, requiring all school superintendents to attest to the English fluency and literacy of their teachers where ‘the teacher’s fluency is not apparent through classroom observation and assessment or interview assessment.'” [Lowell Sun]

Readers with long memories will recall the 1990s controversy over a hard-to-understand foreign-born teacher in Westfield, Mass. which led Massachusetts voters to adopt Question 2; I wrote about it for Reason here. By coincidence, presumably, Robishaw attended Westfield State College.


September 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 23, 2009

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September 15 roundup

by Walter Olson on September 15, 2009


…now suing the Mount Vernon, Ohio school district, claiming that he’s the target of religious discrimination. [Popehat, Mount Vernon News with complaint in PDF; coverage of the cross incident last year at Courthouse News; commentary critical of teacher at Panda's Thumb, supportive at WorldMag]

Having been critical of the Los Angeles Times yesterday, let me accord all due credit to the paper for its investigative series on the near-impossibility of firing teachers in L.A. The district has spent more than $2 million, for example, trying to get rid of Matthew Kim, a special ed teacher accused of harassing teenagers and colleagues who has been collecting full salary for seven years without actually teaching. One underlying problem: “Kids don’t have a union.” Bloggers react: Ken @ Popehat, Mickey Kaus, Amy Alkon, Brian Doherty. Meanwhile, reports Seyward Darby in the New Republic (via Nick Gillespie), “About 1,400 teachers in New York City are receiving full salaries and benefits even though they don’t have permanent jobs. Two hundred and five of them have been without full-time work for three years. And they can continue receiving payments indefinitely even if they never secure new positions.” It’s called the Absent Teacher Reserve.

March 17 roundup

by Walter Olson on March 17, 2009

  • Asks to have $12.6 million verdict set aside because juror Twittered about the case [Little Rock, Ark.; AP/Yahoo]
  • Florida legislator opposes “animal husbandry,” thinks it’s sin forbidden in Book of Leviticus. And “Larcenia” is probably the most perfect first name for a politician I’ve ever heard [Popehat]
  • Eleventh Circuit upholds most charges against Alabama ex-Gov. Don Siegelman [AP/New York Times, earlier]
  • D.C. Council member bullies tiny non-profit paper, says advertiser “will be held responsible” [Marc Fisher, WaPo; Brookland Heartbeat]
  • “Worst teachers are rarely formally removed from the classroom” [Denver Post]
  • Blogger calling fashion model a skank makes an unsympathetic figure, but the implications for blog anonymity could be serious [NY Post, Scott Greenfield, (Cit Media Law, earlier]
  • Barbie says, “Governing West Virginia is hard!” [@cathygellis; Lowering the Bar; earlier]
  • Student journalists are blogging dismissed professor Ward Churchill’s lawsuit against the Univ. of Colorado [Race to the Bottom via Ambrogi, Legal Blog Watch]

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Teacher tenure follies

by Walter Olson on July 11, 2008

On Long Island, even a teacher’s guilty plea and likely prison sentence for a fifth DWI arrest in seven years is not necessarily enough for termination. The teacher continues to draw paid leave at an annual salary of $113,559, with a disciplinary hearing coming up next month. (Frank Eltman, “Firing tenured teachers isn’t just difficult, it costs you”, AP/USA Today, Jun. 30). Related: Ray Fisman, Slate.


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).


Wilmington, N.C.: “The parents of a 16-year-old girl who recently married a 40-year-old former high school coach have filed a lawsuit against the Brunswick County Board of Education, saying school officials failed to protect their daughter.” According to the school board, administrators at South Brunswick High School “closely monitored and limited” the apparent mentoring relationship between student Windy Hager and track coach Brenton Wuchae “but never found evidence of any romance.” On Jun. 18 Wuchae resigned his position and married Ms. Hager. Superintendent Katie McGee stated the next day that “when dealing with tenured employees, suspicion alone cannot warrant dismissal.” Now parents Dennis (“Bubba”) and Betty Hager are suing the school for not doing more, and “have said they reluctantly signed a consent form allowing their daughter to marry her coach”. (AP/WSOC-TV, Jul. 11; WWAY first and second reports; Brunswick Beacon; Wilmington Star-News; Above the Law).


Preggers, with tenure?

by Walter Olson on December 21, 2005

New right spotted on the horizon: that of continuing to teach at a private Catholic elementary school, though unmarried and pregnant, and despite having signed a pledge to “convey the teachings of the Catholic faith by [one's] words and actions”. The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing to force St. Rose of Lima school in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. to rehire Michelle McCusker. A New York Daily News editorial says, “It’s called freedom of religion. By all rights, the NYCLU should defend the school’s position rather than assault it.” (“Bigotry – on whose part?”, Nov. 23; Josh Getlin, “Pregnancy sparks faith-based clash”, L.A. Times/Chicago Tribune, Nov. 27; John Leo, “The case of Michelle McCusker”, syndicated/TownHall, Dec. 5).


As Joanne Jacobs puts it, remarkable and refreshing: “The New York City teachers’ union proposed yesterday cutting to six months the time it takes to remove incompetent teachers, speeding up a process that can now drag on for years.

“As part of a broad overhaul of the disciplinary process and evaluation system for teachers, the union president, Randi Weingarten, also called for ending so-called rubber rooms, where more than 200 teachers facing charges of malfeasance are sent to languish, some for years, while still receiving full pay. She proposed the appointment of a special master and a task force of pro bono lawyers to clear the backlog of cases.” (David Herszenhorn, “Failing City Teachers Face a Faster Ax”, New York Times, Jan. 15) (more)

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