Sunday, March 23, 2008

Schools Nationwide Hide Teacher Misconduct and Incompetence

New reports show teachers nationwide are allowed to continue teaching, or are paid not to teach, after being found guilty of misconduct. Expensive, difficult, union-mandated rules prevent them from being dismissed.

Over the course of a two-year investigation culminating in mid-December 2007, Florida's Herald Tribune newspaper uncovered what likely is the tip of an iceberg--a confidential, nationwide list of 24,500 teachers who have been punished for a wide array of offenses. The list, gathered and maintained by the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), does not tell why the teachers were disciplined, but criminal convictions, insubordination, sexual misconduct, and student abuse are common causes for such actions. Unfortunately, where abusive and incompetent teachers are concerned, the system is rigged against victims--that is, students.

The major obstacle to obtaining a complete picture of the widespread scope of teacher incompetence and misbehavior is that such information in almost all states is considered confidential either by state regulation or local school board policy. The only exceptions are Florida, Ohio, South Carolina, and Vermont.

Any such information in NASDTEC files has come from school districts on a voluntary basis, with the promise that it will remain confidential. In almost every state, there is no practical way to find out how many unsatisfactory teachers remain in classrooms, how many of the offending teachers have been transferred to no-student-contact jobs, or how many have been allowed to resign with a clean record (to avoid prolonged, politically risky, and expensive dismissal procedures) only to be hired in other school districts.

According to the Herald Tribune investigative report, "Broken Trust," more than 750 Florida teachers have been punished for misconduct toward students over the past 10 years. At least 150 from that group are still teaching today.

Another investigation, published in late December by the Detroit Free Press, found dozens of tenured teachers in the metro area were unfit to stay in the classroom but were paid to resign and had allegations of impropriety and incompetence removed from their records. A quarter of these bought-out teachers went on to teach in other districts, likely without their new employers being aware of prior allegations.

In the fall of 2007, more than 500 New York City teachers, assistant principals, and principals had records so dismal they were deemed unfit for any school and were placed in a dozen reassignment rooms, often referred to as "rubber rooms," where they idle away their time on full salaries and benefits while waiting to enter or complete a dismissal procedure rendered endless and unworkable by union contracts.

In his award-winning series on "The Hidden Costs of Tenure," investigative reporter Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group, which publishes three newspapers in Illinois, revealed just how tough it is to discover what happens to incompetent teachers in that state. Reeder told me about the frustration of obtaining information that should be easily accessible to the public. He was forced to lodge 1,500 Freedom of Information Act requests with various government agencies and interview hundreds of educators, union officials, and experts. This is not a user-friendly procedure for the average citizen.

One of Reeder's big discoveries was that procedure trumps everything when it comes to dismissing an incompetent tenured teacher. The slightest deviation from a meaningless bureaucratic procedure can lose a case--resulting in another incompetent teacher remaining in the classroom. It's also very expensive. Because of due process requirements, complicated by union contract impediments, one dismissal can cost a school district $100,000 to $400,000. That's why so many districts decide to leave incompetent teachers in the classroom or buy them off with a promise of a clean record if they resign.

Reeder found in the previous 19 years, 94 percent of the 876 school districts in Illinois have never even attempted to fire any tenured teacher. And of every 930 evaluations of tenured teachers, only one resulted in an "unsatisfactory" rating--without which there can be no dismissal.


Educate the Educators

Voices of Educators in the Sunday, March 2, 2008, The Honolulu Advertiser was headlined "Needed: Leaders to transform education." It was written by a laundry list of "educators" who are, one assumes, leaders. The 910 word article reflected the honest and accurate concerns of the authors that the government education system needs major transformation.

But the key leader was never mentioned. The leader who knows the needs, wants, habits and potential of each child is not mentioned -- not once in the entire article. What better indicator of mistaken values and priorities than to prescribe correction without even mentioning the parent -- the responsible/accountable one. The one who will suffer consequences for mistakes and rewards for correct choices for life (and for some, perpetuity). That's a fate the authors are immune from.

This reminds me of the memorable national TV interview show where then Senator Phil Gramm was faced with a devoted educator who spoke with total conviction of his unswerving dedication to each and every child. Gramm asked: "Does that include my children?" After being told "Yes, certainly" Gramm simply said "What are their names?" That made the point crystal clear.

There is no hope for government education unless we change the focus from top-down to bottom-up. For society to flourish, the top (the authors and the government bureaucracy) is expendable, the bottom (parent) is essential. The authors miss that mark. Should we send them back to school?


Prayer and meditation law challenged in Ill. schools

A federal judge favors expanding a legal challenge to a mandatory moment of silence in classrooms into a class-action lawsuit that would include all Illinois school districts. Judge Robert W. Gettleman said Wednesday that he also plans to expand the plaintiff's side of the lawsuit to include all students, instead of just the one suburban teenage girl who sued to block the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act. "A bilateral class is the only way to go here," Gettleman said.

Gettleman said he wants to hear from both sides before extending an injunction he issued in November temporarily blocking the state superintendent from enforcing the Illinois law, which requires a brief period of prayer or reflective silence at the start of every school day. He also wants the sides to plan how to inform school districts of the class action and whether districts can opt out of the case. Some districts require the daily silence, following the state act that went into effect in October. Other districts, including Chicago, have stopped enforcing the law as they wait for the court to decide on its constitutionality, said Illinois assistant attorney general Thomas Ioppolo.

Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in Springfield to remove the words "student prayer" from the law and make it optional. "I was hoping, frankly, this was further along in the legislative process," the judge said at Wednesday's hearing. "I was hoping we'd avoid spending resources on all sides." The lawsuit was filed by talk show host Rob Sherman, an outspoken atheist, and his daughter, a freshman at Buffalo Grove High School. Sherman contends the law represents an attempt to inject religion into the public schools. Lawmakers passed the measure over Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich's veto.


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