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.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.
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?