Tuesday, December 14, 2010

USA Today: Unions protect bad teachers

Little Rhode Island is taking a big step in improving its public schools--by allowing failing schools to clean house and fire its teachers. Which leads USA Today to explore the issue of teachers unions in an editorial.

At this time of high unemployment, one group of professionals has no shortage of job security: bad teachers. Few public school principals in the country are able to dismiss an incompetent teacher without a protracted, expensive struggle, and therefore firings rarely happen. Yet researchers agree that hiring good teachers, and ditching bad ones, is the best way to improve education.

Nationwide, 2% or fewer teachers are ever fired or fail to have their contracts renewed because of poor performance. Among tenured teachers — those who get job security, typically after two or three years of satisfactory performance — there are often no dismissals at all, according to the U.S. Education Department.

In Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah and Vermont — states in which fewer than half of fourth-graders are proficient at reading or math — the average school district did not remove a single tenured teacher in 2007-08. It's no wonder: Dismissing one teacher can cost upwards of $100,000, and the legal struggle can drag on for years.

A prime example of the irrationality is in New York City, where teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence can spend years in "rubber rooms" — doing nothing, collecting their full salaries and accruing benefits while their cases crawl through the arbitration process.

As Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty suggested last week, USA Today thinks the time has arrived to eliminate tenure for teachers.

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