Bad Teachers

The NY Post fumes about another “bad teacher” story, carefully designed to outrage all good taxpaying citizens as to the nefarious slugs collecting our hard-won taxpayer dollars.

I’m a process freak. When I read the Post story, my eyes went straight to the section that many others ] probably glossed over:

Accused in 2001 of making lewd comments and ogling eighth-grade girls’ butts at IS 347 in Queens, Rosenfeld was slapped with a week off without pay after the DOE failed to produce enough witnesses at a hearing.

But instead of returning Rosenfeld to the classroom, the DOE kept him in one of its notorious “rubber rooms,” where teachers in misconduct cases sat idle or napped.

or

That let rubber-room granddaddy Roland Pierre make a mockery of the system. He finally retired at age 76 last year — 14 years after he was yanked from PS 138 in Brooklyn and never taught again. Criminal charges in 1997 that he molested a sixth-grade girl were dropped.

So….we don’t actually know if either of these guys are, in fact, oglers and molesters. We don’t know this because, perhaps, incompetent bureaucrats and law enforcement personnel (government workers, all) failed to make the case (just as the DA found insufficient evidence on Mark Berendt in 1994–and yes, Berendt, too, gets to retire with full benefits). Or, perhaps, we don’t know this because these guys aren’t actually guilty.

What we do know, according to the story, is the process for getting rid of bad teachers, as well as the process for putting sex offenders in jail, was followed. But the journalists who write “bad teacher” stories don’t agree with the outcome of that process. Journalists who write “bad teacher” stories have to mention the process, but they never blame the process. They blame the unions for doing the job they’re legally required to do, the teachers for not quitting or allowing themselves to be fired. But not the process. These stories always punch up the volume on the potential sex offender or near-abusive teachers, but it’s rare to see a “bad teacher” story that focuses on the effort to get rid of a teacher who just isn’t very good.

Eduformers, on the other hand, do blame the process. They don’t like it one bit. Eduformers often push the “bad teacher” sex offender stories, not because they think all teachers are sex offenders, but because, as they repeat ad nauseum, “we need to make it easier to fire bad teachers”. Gen up outrage to make it easier to fire sex offending teachers and hopefully the net will widen to pull in the other teachers the principal wants to fire as well.

But while eduformers do blame the process, they rarely talk about changing it. They want it gone. They point to the the process of firing teachers, which they clearly think is absurd, and call for a more executive approach, one that allows principals full discretion to fire “bad teachers”.

In fact, the process itself isn’t that ridiculous. In most districts, principals can visit classes any time they like. If they find a teacher asleep or reading the newspaper, they can write it up and put it in the teacher’s personnel file, where it can be used in the next evaluation. If students turn in absurd assignments that show the teacher is phoning it in, or record the teacher showing them movies daily, that, too, can be included in the evaluation. An aggressive principal can get a bad teacher fired—if, in fact, the teacher is a bad teacher.

But that’s not enough for eduformers. They don’t want a process, they want a system with executive control—one in which the principal is more powerful than the much-hated unions, one in which the principal gets to form his or her team and dump the naysayers. Dream on. I get the allure. It’s just not going to happen. Unions or no, teachers and principals are still paid with government money, and principals will never be able to have unilateral control as long as they’re spending taxpayer dollars. Because, just as there are really bad teachers, there are spectacularly awful principals1, and the job carries authority to do real damage with real money. Eduformers either can’t or won’t understand the futility of their dreams.

I know that eduformers don’t understand math, despite their protestations about math teacher competence, because bad teachers are a non-issue when it comes to their contributions to educational costs. Imagine, for a moment, that 10,000 horrible teachers sit idle in New York City, teachers so awful that they are all banished to the rubber room and are collecting $100K/year. They would be taking up 5% of the city’s operations budget for education. In fact, there are fewer than a thousand horrible teachers sitting idle, and the money spent is a fraction of 1% of the budget. So spare me the sturm und drang. When it comes to waste in education, bad teachers are a rounding error.

If principals wanted to make firing bad teachers a priority, they would. The fact that they don’t speaks volumes not about the difficulty of firing bad teachers, but rather the low priority it is for principals.

So. Should it be easier to fire spectacularly incompetent teachers? Sure. Is that what eduformers are interested in? No.

What eduformers say they want is improved educational outcomes, and that improving teacher quality is essential. If that’s really what they want, then no problem, as far as I’m concerned: eduformers, you’re wrong. Give it up. Bad teachers aren’t causing the problems you’re worried about, and they really aren’t that much of a problem to begin with.

What many progressives accuse eduformers of actually wanting is something quite different. Eduformers and their corporate funders are, say progressives, actively seeking to undermine all elements of the traditional educational power structure—unions and education schools—in order to remove teacher job protections and make education much cheaper. They want to turn teaching into a job like any other private sector job, with zero protections and guarantees, no pensions, getting turned out with a few weeks pay when a new boss comes in, no seniority rights. These protections, once guaranteed to many private sector workers, are now a sinecure of government jobs and need to be destroyed. Once teachers are stripped of the protections they have, say the progressives, eduformers will shrug and find a new culprit—and probably push for government to get out of schooling altogether.

I find this accusation extremely convincing. Many eduformers are no doubt well-meaning romantic fools being used by their corporate funders, while other eduformers are explicitly working towards this goal, openly or not.

The thing is, I’m not sure I disagree with that goal. Why should teachers and government workers be protected when private sector workers are not? Why should taxpayer dollars go straight from teacher paychecks to union funds that get handed directly to progressive causes that many teachers don’t support? While we can’t get better results with our current goals, we could undoubtedly get the same results for less money—not that much less, unless pensions got axed. But less.

If that’s the goal, then why not go for it directly? We could revamp the teaching job in all sorts of ways, many of which would give tons more power to good teachers in way eduformers can’t even dream of, cut costs, and—alas—send all the best teachers to the richest schools permanently.

Of course, if that is the goal, no one will admit it directly. Far more respectable to proclaim dedication to poor and underprivileged children everywhere and just incidentally–in the best interests of these children—go after those evil wicked teachers who are ruining childrens’ lives and our country’s future.

Just when I get to that point in the Machiavellian universe the progressives see, I shrug. Naw. Eduformers really are nothing more than naive dreamers who think they understand what’s wrong with our schools.

Not that their motives really matter. As long as they’re blaming teachers, they’re going to fail.

I’m not a fan of unions, so I do find it a tad ironic that I’m counting on unions and their invincibility to stop eduformers from further destroying our schools. At least I’m paying for it to the tune of a thousand or so a year.

1Not my principal, however, who is a paragon of principals.

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