I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Perpetual Whine About Tenure

Another "woe is me!" column from yet another superintendent who wants to make her job easier by eliminating tenure:
There has been much discussion about teacher evaluation and its potential to improve learning in our classrooms. This issue focuses on things like linking teacher tenure and pay to student test scores, and so-called value-added data. There are many disagreements about these measures, but I believe we can agree on the fact that there are certain teachers who just should not be working with children. We don’t want teachers in our classrooms who talk explicitly about sexual acts, or who hit children, put soap in their mouths or curse at them. We certainly don’t want teachers who make repeated sexual advances to other teachers, do drugs at school or fly into rages for no apparent reason. I have active cases like these, and have returned almost all of these teachers to their positions.
How can this be? New Jersey’s tenure law, enacted more than 100 years ago, effectively confers lifetime employment to teachers. And the process to remove tenure is so onerous, it is essentially impossible to do so.
Let's get this straight: no one - not teachers, not the unions - wants these people in the classroom. No one thinks it's appropriate to have a system that keeps districts from firing these people. Of course they should be removed immediately.

And if any district is willing to sit down in good faith and work it out with their union, they can do so. New York worked with the union and got rid of the rubber rooms; there's nothing to prevent this superintendent from working out similar deals with her local.

The issue is one of due process: are we prepared to have public schools become places where the say so of a single person is enough to remove a teacher? Or should we have due process to ensure that these jobs do not become patronage positions?
The overwhelming majority of Perth Amboy’s — and, indeed, New Jersey’s — teachers are honest, hard-working people of great integrity who have kids’ best interest at heart. I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the very few who don’t show up for work or who shouldn’t be around kids. Because of the current tenure process — one that can take as long as three years and cost more than $100,000 in legal fees to remove a teacher — I must engage in a rarely successful process to remove these individuals.
First of all, if you can't even remove a teacher who doesn't show up for work, it sounds to me like you're not doing a very good job making your case.  Superintendents would be able to remove teachers far more easily and for much less money under the current system if they would diligently put together the evidence for removal; unfortunately, it seems few are willing to undergo the effort. It's almost like a district attorney complaining they'd be able to put more criminals behind bars if they could just get rid of Miranda rights.

Second, there is plenty of evidence that many teachers are counseled out of the profession without going through tenure. Formal hearings are not the only way to get rid of folks who shouldn't be in the schools.

Finally, the cost of a tenure prosecution is a direct function of the time it takes. If you cap the time, you cap the cost. So let's do that.

Or would you rather have this go through the courts?
No district should have to bear that burden. And most, as a result, do not challenge tenure. Even if we make our case thoroughly and successfully, and a judge agrees to let me dismiss a teacher, he or she can still appeal to the commissioner of Education, the state Board of Education, the Superior Court of New Jersey and, potentially, the state Supreme Court. 
Is tenure something that our teachers need to protect them from capricious actions of managers? Or should they simply have the same due process rights as other professionals? Shouldn’t a principal and superintendent have the right to remove a teacher who poses true danger to children?
Of course they should, and I'd go even further: they should have the right to remove someone who is bad at their job, even when they aren't a danger to children. But that isn't the issue.

If you remove tenure, you will inevitably move the process into the courts; talk about time and expense. Has anyone who advocates for removing tenure done the analysis? Are we really so convinced that it will be cheaper and faster to have these cases go through the courts? And are juries going to be more sympathetic toward removing bad teachers than the current adjudicators?

The solution to this is really simple, it's fair, and it's cheap: cap the time of the process, and make sure cases are handled outside of the district to ensure schools don't become patronage factories. The NJEA proposal is 90 days; that seems reasonable, but we can debate it.

As to other professionals: they police themselves. Lawyers go before the bar; doctors go to licensing boards. The people who adjudicate the cases are themselves lawyers and doctors.

Of course, employers of doctors and lawyers negotiate contracts with them depending on their market worth. I wonder if Superintendent Caffery really wants to go down that road. Is she prepared to negotiate individual contracts for every teacher she wants to employ?

If not, let's stop making false equivalencies with other professions. Teaching IS unique; no other profession requires professionals to make assessments of children that their parents may not like. If teachers are to make those assessments fairly, they need protection from politically powerful parents. That's what tenure is; remove it, and you are not only inviting in cronyism, you're encouraging grade inflation.

Is that really what's best for kids?


Ken Houghton said...

I'm inclined to argue 90 days is too short; it's a nice target, but remember that the clock starts when the request is made. Which means the teacher (1) needs to find out what the charges are, (2) needs to get counsel to defend himmerself, (3) needs to gather information, which may mean going back a few years, (4) needs to talk to witnesses, etc.

The courts/review system needs to (1) schedule an initial hearing that fits the timeframe of everyone involved, 2) be presented with preliminary "evidence", 3) review same and determine if it is acceptable, and (4) needs to hold the hearing, (5) needs to deliberate, which takes time, and (6) needs to present a decision and the supporting rationale.

And that's the first round.

Assume you file a request today; clock starts.

Not all parties are available until January: 45 days, give or take.

Spend a day or two presenting, rebutting, arguing.

Spend a week deliberating and another writing up and approving decision.

It's been 60 days, and we're still at the end of the first round. (Think "We're still in Elizabeth, dealing with the Superintendent's cronies.")

Leaves 30 days to get onto appeals calendars, have them review, etc.

90 days, depending on time of year and frequency of Review meetings, becomes "rubber stamp the first decision."

It's a good target, but not workable as a final rule. That NJEA opens with it either (1) means they're planning to lose, (2) that none of their people looks at a calendar, or (3) that they mean "90 days from the first hearing," which might be reasonable.

Anonymous said...

How about this: A superintendent is held accountable for results, and hires and fires at will as any other boss. If there is a cause of action for unfair termination, the employee pursues it like any other American.

Superintendents will not fire good teachers and retain bad teachers if their job is at stake on performance. And if a teacher gets fired because he/she doesn't get along with the boss or makes enemies or doesn't work with the team or is a bad influence on the school environment -- tough, that is the way it is in real life.

As to all this talk about avoiding "patronage jobs?" ....Duke, can you explain further about that? I'm not being sarcastic, honestly don't get it. It sounds like a Socialist Party pamphlet from the Boss Tweed days 150 years ago. Like, you are saying the Mayor's kid is going to get a job teaching gym to third graders? That's patronage? I guess in the old days patronage jobs were the kind you got incredible benefits for and only had to show up 6 hours a day 180 days a year....is that what you are saying?

Duke said...

Anon: start here:


Come back after you read this and tell me we shouldn't be worried about schools becoming patronage mills.

BTW: if you want to teacher bash, fine. You only further make my point: the Christie lovers don't just have a problem with the unions - they have a problem with teachers.

Anonymous said...

Columbia College in downtown Chicago is a perfect example of what happens with weak tenure rules. Teachers fired with no notice, teachers locked out of the offices and escorted off campus by security with no warning or due process. And they are all in the court system. Thanks for taking the debate back to where it belongs - what the necessary steps are to improving due process -- not destroy it.

Anonymous said...

Acknowledged that Elizabeth is a clusterhug, worst in the state, and so bad that it is almost useless to point to as an example of anything. People would and should wind up in jail there. But the problems there are legal ones, ELEC filings, issues settled by existing laws and regulations. I see little or nothing in that situation that demands solution as tenure. And, I am sure, from what I read about the pro-education attitude of some of the players, I'm sure there are many NJEA members who exercise their First amendment rights and openly support the candidate of their choice.

Anonymous said...

Tenure just guarantees due process. The administrators and principals are the ones who hire the teachers in the first place, teachers don't hire themselves. Aren't the administrators going through the proper vetting process or do they just blindly hire any warm body?. Then there is the 3 year trial period in which a teacher can be fired for any reason or no reason. Again, aren't the principals doing their jobs, doing all the multiple observations of these beginning teachers? The administrators are trying to shift the blame for their own failings onto teachers and tenure. The administrators are trying to take the heat off of themselves by blaming the "evil" tenure process. Tenure exists because you know, maybe, possibly a teacher is actually innocent of charges made against him/her. Amazing, there is an economic Armageddon caused by the fraudsters on Wall Street and the "geniuses" of the corporate boardrooms, not by teachers or the NJEA. This economic dislocation is used as an excuse to gut, cut and slice teacher health benefits, pensions, bargaining rights, tenure, seniority and ultimately unions.

Anonymous said...

You forgot global warming in your little tantrum there. And how many tenured teachers have been fired in New Jersey, say, compared to disbarred lawyers?

Duke said...

If there was no tenure, Elizabeth would clearly be far, far worse. It is a cautionary tale that we should take seriously, and it stands in direct contradiction to the insouciant attitude of those who say, "Oh, the laws we have besides tenure are fine!" They clearly are not.

Need more examples?


See this link also for analysis that shows the teacher dismissal rate through tenure is HIGHER than the dismissal rate for lawyers through disbarment in the few sets of data we have to compare. And for testimony about large numbers of "bad" teachers being counseled out before formal tenure charges are brought.

As I keep saying here: 50% of teachers leave the job within their first five years. 40% of teachers in NJ do not earn tenure by the end of their third year. Many "bad" teachers leave because they can't cut it early in their careers.

The most important point: no one - and yes that, include Hanushek's speculations - has shown a correlation between getting rid of tenure and better student performance. In fact, states with stronger unions and workplace protections for teachers do better in comparisons of student achievement.

This whole argument is a sham. If "bad" teachers with tenure is a problem, it is a comparatively small one. It pales in comparison to class size, narrow curricula, funding inadequacies, childhood poverty, racism, and parental neglect/disinvolvement.

Gutting tenure is about gutting unions and gutting worker protection. It is not about student achievement. I'd like, just once, to hear a reformer come clean about that.

Discrimination Lawyer MA said...

Not working anymore: http://www.bluejersey.com/diary/19297/ed-reform-101-merit-pay-seniority-tenure

Employers of doctors and lawyers negotiate contracts with them depending on their market worth. I wonder if Superintendent Caffery really wants to go down that road. Is she prepared to negotiate individual contracts for every teacher she wants to employ?

Anonymous said...

"""""""""""""This whole argument is a sham. If "bad" teachers with tenure is a problem, it is a comparatively small one. It pales in comparison to class size, narrow curricula, funding inadequacies, childhood poverty, racism, and parental neglect/disinvolvement.""""""

So, let's polish off racism and poverty before paying attention to getting rid of bad teachers? Really? How long are you trying to kill the clock until retirement, Duke?

************Gutting tenure is about gutting unions and gutting worker protection.*******

Do any of your argumnets make sense without emotive jargon like "gutting"? And, by the way, "worker"? Teachers seem to move back and forth between being "workers" in need of union protection from Meanie Foremen and educator/professionals who can stand on their own like other professionals. It's like watching Bugs Bunny play the infield and outfield.

*****See this link also for analysis that shows the teacher dismissal rate through tenure is HIGHER than the dismissal rate for lawyers through disbarment in the few sets of data we have to compare.*****

You are ridiculously comparing standards of incompetence with standards of professional misconduct.

But you know that.

Anonymous said...

Jersey Jazzman, meet nc002, the world's biggest teacher hater from the NJ.com education forum.

I'm sorry a poster there linked to a blog post. which brought him here.

He has no life and is the slipperiest, twistiest bullshit artist I've ever seen. He beats on people and then claims insult when they call him out.

Enjoy eviscerating him. He seems to thrive on it.

Anonymous said...

Good teachers (yes we do exist)bemoan the fact that unprofessional and abusive people are sometimes allowed to work in our profession. But this is because the administrators did not prevent them from remaining in the classroom. Until new measures are in place to protect good teachers from harassment and arbitrary reprimands based on poor leadership (yes, bad principals do exist) tenure must remain. Poor leaders often target superstar teachers and try to ruin their reputations and proven record of student progress. It doesn't make sense, and does not serve our students and their families. I would love to see this issue addressed in the debate.