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Hidden violations

Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

* The last time Scott Reeder did a big investigation of the state’s school system, his series on teacher tenure prompted a major back and forth on this blog between himself and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

This time, Reeder takes a look at how difficult it is to fire teachers accused of misconduct, among other things. He doesn’t paint a pretty picture. Here are three stories that are posted so far at a special Small Newspaper Group website

* Illinois does poor job of dealing with teacher misconduct

A seven-month national investigation conducted by Small Newspaper Group found that Illinois has one of the worst track records for removing errant teachers from the profession.

The investigation found:

* Among the 50 states, only Virginia revokes or suspends fewer teaching certificates than Illinois.

* No investigators are employed by the Illinois State Board of Education so reports of teacher misconduct are often not investigated or acted upon.

* The Department of Children and Family Services has found 323 cases providing credible evidence of abuse by teachers, but none have had their licenses suspended or revoked.

* Teachers hired before 2004 have not had to undergo a state-mandated national criminal background check.

* Physicians are 43 times more likely than the state’s teachers to have their license suspended or revoked. Lawyers are 25 times more likely than teacher to have their license suspended or revoked.

* None of the tenured teachers fired in the last decade have also lost their teaching certificate and certification officials are not notified when a school district disciplines an educator.

Unlike most states, Illinois has never employed investigators to examine allegations against educators.

* Teachers get fired, but don’t leave classroom

* Out of 95,000 tenured teachers in Illinois an average of seven are fired each year, two for poor performance and five for misconduct.

* Eighty-four percent of Illinois’ school districts have never given any tenured teacher a bad job evaluation during an 11-year period.

* Over a five-year period school districts that retained attorneys and attempted to fire a tenured teacher spent an average $219,000 per case in legal fees alone. […]

Even so, school boards lose one-third of the cases heard by tenure hearing officers. But even if a hearing officer upholds the firing of teacher, they are free to seek employment in another school district.

In fact, none of the tenured teachers fired in the last decade have had subsequent action taken to revoke or suspend their teaching certificates.

That is not the way it works in some other states. For example, in Pennsylvania and New York, after a tenured teacher is fired the teacher licensing board automatically considers whether a teaching certificate should also be revoked.

* llinois lacks investigators, background on teachers before 2004

Both the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers also expressed concern about the logistics and cost of fingerprinting 127,000 teachers.

“I think if someone has been serving honorably in a school district for 25 or 30 years or even longer the idea that they should take time out their day to be fingerprinted doesn’t make a lot sense from any perspective,'’ said Charlie McBarron, spokesman for IEA.

The compromise bill, which passed in 2004, only requires fingerprinting for teachers when they are first hired by a school district. That means most teachers hired before 2004 have not undergone a complete criminal background check and likely will not for the remainder of their careers.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart contends this approach is a mistake.

He noted that some teachers hired before 2004 may continue to be in the profession for 30 or more years.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Wumpus - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:13 am:

    Rich, why do you hate teachers?

    Seriously, teachers unions are active, have numbers and have the myth that they are underpaid/poor. They also have access to the babues, so it is not a good idea for politicians to piss them off.

  2. - Pat collins - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:21 am:

    I wish they were as concerned about bad curicula and teaching methods as about bad teachers.

  3. - Ghost - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:30 am:

    Education badly needs reform in Illinois. To do this you need to rewrite the statutes dealing with teachers and teaching certificates; end tenure, make teachers at will; elect the board members instead of having them appointed; take control of their budget away from the executive.

  4. - Truthful James - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:32 am:

    And then we have the Teacher’s Contracts which has the School Boards signing off on the closed shop monopoly position of the local union. That would be illegal in the Private Sector.

    I wonder how many taxpayers/parents are aware of this provision.

  5. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:36 am:

    TJ, I think you need to check your terminology. Teachers, as I understand it, have to join the union within a set time frame, which is common practice in the private sector and is known as a union shop. I don’t believe they have to belong to a union as a condition of hiring, which would be a closed shop.

  6. - archpundit - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:40 am:

    ===* Eighty-four percent of Illinois’ school districts have never given any tenured teacher a bad job evaluation during an 11-year period.

    It’s Lake Wobegon where everybody is above average.

    The unions could stake out a far more productive argument in saying it’s not their fault that management is incompetent which is what the study tells me.

    If you read the examples above, it doesn’t indicate that unions are a problem, but administration refusing to do their job–evaluate teachers honestly and objectively. They can claim it’s the unions’ fault, but the union didn’t force anyone to declare all of their teachers above average.

    You cannot fire someone who is doing their job above average by your own calculation. Hold the administrators and boards accountable.

  7. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:45 am:

    I don’t want to pick on teachers. Many of them get out of school with large loan debt and take jobs that pay a pittance. But the protection of tenure and the difficulty a school board and/or administration has in ridding a district of some bad apples is borderline excrutiating.

    Look at the situation from the standpoint of a parent. Your kid is attending a school that is continuously receiving poor marks and testing under the national average. Yet your property taxes keep going up and nothing seems to be done to correct the problem. Shouldn’t firing or at least reprimanding bad teachers be an option? Or should those same teachers who have contributed to the problem for many years be continued to slide?

  8. - archpundit - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:50 am:

    ===. But the protection of tenure and the difficulty a school board and/or administration has in ridding a district of some bad apples is borderline excrutiating.

    This is where I’m not sure it’s that hard if you do the paperwork identifying the problem at every instance instead of after you realize you have a problem.

    The unions work to guarantee due process rights in firing for their members and if you do the actual documentation when there is a problem, the process shouldn’t be that hard. What the stories tell me is that no one is doing the documentation to make the case when the problem goes to far which isn’t the unions fault, it’s bad management.

    I swear I won’t hijack the thread, but bureaucratic oversight and studying it is sort of my career so I have fairly strong views on these issues. It strikes me that the School Boards and school administration are not doing their job and so they go to the process without any evidence.

  9. - Bill - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 9:55 am:

    Teachers are not required to join a union. They have every right not to join and there are usually one or two in each school who don’t. The rest gladly join to protect themselves from teacher bashing, right wing zealots who want to treat teachers as second class citizens without due process rights and pay them atrociously low wages.
    The teachers unions assure teachers and other school employees that they will not be politically harassed or punished for their opinions, that they will be treated as the highly trained, hard working professionals that they are, and that they will be paid a fair salary with decent benefits and some modicum of job security in exchange for doing what is perhaps the most important job in Illinois, educating our children.
    If you want the quality, competence, and professionalism of our teachers to drastically decline, get rid of the teachers unions.

  10. - MOON - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:05 am:

    When is the public and government officials going to focus on the real cause of our failing education system? It’s the parents and their lack of interest in seeing that their children do their homework, get to school, behave, etc. Without parents accepting their responsibilty , the downward spiral will continue. No amount of money will cure this ill ! Parents get involved !

  11. - Fan of the Game - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:20 am:

    A stipulation:

    Teachers never have to join a union. Many school districts, however, have negotiated “fair Share” in which a teacher who is not a member of a union must pay his or her “Fair Share” to offset the costs of negotiating contracts, etc.

    The amount is usually close to the annual dues for the union, so those teachers generally do join, but, technically, they are not required to do so.

  12. - Anonish - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:30 am:

    I’m pretty much with you on that sentiment. My father always said that a lot of problems could be eased with parents uttering two simple sentences every night: “Have you done your homework?” and “Show it to me.”

  13. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:37 am:

    Larry is spot-on.

    How can you blame the teachers or their unions if their administrators keep cranking out positive evaluations, and then say, “we can’t fire this teacher-s/he has too many good evaluations in the file?”

    Look to the good ol’ boys club of superintendents and law firms that really run most school districts and therein lies a great deal of the problem. Quite often, the same firm that represents the school board also writes the Supt’s contract (which is where those 20% bonuses started.) In turn, the Supt. makes sure the firm keeps getting rehired by the school board. Most school boards are full of well-intentioned people with limited experience who are owned by this “combine” by the end of their first year.

    See the story in today’s Tribune (link in the Trib box to your right) about unhappy teachers in bargaining after they saw the Superintendent’s deal and were being asked to settle for a lot less.

    For example, the Supt. in Elgin got a $60,000 raise to bring her second year salary to $400,000. In exchange for that, she sold her Illinois home, went on medical leave, and is living in Missouri.

    They had to hire a retired Supt. for $1,000 per diem until they can figure out what to do.

    One would imagine that morale in the teacher corps in that distict ain’t sky-high.

  14. - GoBearsss - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:41 am:

    I find that more often than not, when a school wants to get rid of a teacher, they don’t go through a disciplinary process.

    It is far more passive aggressive than that.

    Positions are simply eliminated due to lack of funding, and then they mysteriously find new funding come August or September.

  15. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:01 am:

    50% of new teachers leave within the first five years.

    Typically tenure is not granted to poor teachers. This is done without cause. It’s not easy to get through the tenure process. If it works well, most of the teachers getting tenure should be good. I would guess that is one part of the answer as to why the number of tenured teachers with poor ratings is low; it should be. Thee poor teachers should be caught pre-tenure.

  16. - Scott Reeder - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:14 am:

    Pot calling kettle, While it is true that 50 percent of teachers leave during the first five years, there is considerable debate over whether this improves the profession. Harvard Education Dean Richard Murnane found in his book “Who Will Teach” that the average IQ of teachers leaving the profession was higher than those staying. Daniel Goldhaber at the University of Washington has made similar findings.

  17. - Bill - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:30 am:

    Nice misuse of irrelevant statistics to arrive at a false conclusion. The good ol straw man approach. You must have had a lousy math teacher as well as poor instruction in journalistic ethics. It is all your teachers’ fault.

  18. - Pat Collins - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:33 am:

    I am firmly convinced that bad METHODS and curricula cause way more damage than poor teachers. It’s true that Admins often DO abuse the teachers, and that is why a union is needed.

    But it ought NOT be to able to strike.

  19. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:11 pm:

    There are certainly many reasons why those 50% leave. Poor performance, unrealistic expectations, low pay, poor support, the list goes on. Murnane was arguing that we need to provide more support for teachers to help keep more of the most qualified teachers on board for the long haul.

    Unions have been supporting this position for a long time. The teachers unions recognize the need for a well-qualified membership and provide mentoring and development opportunities. They also work to move unqualified teachers out of the profession.

  20. - Gene Parmesan - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:14 pm:

    “They also work to move unqualified teachers out of the profession.”

    How so?

  21. - Cassandra - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:19 pm:

    The culprits in the Elgin school superintendent fiasco are the School Board who approved that controversial pay package for the district sup.
    And the not-very-bright citizens who voted them in and apparently failed to pay much attention to them.

    The teachers are correct to be annoyed on this one. And the citizens of Elgin should dump that School Board like now.

    Teachers and their unions are greedy but there are a lot of really terrible school boards in Illinois. And the locals have nobody to blame but themselves.

  22. - Scott Reeder - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:20 pm:

    Pot calling Kettle, I couldn’t agree with you more on that. More support, opportunities and guidance needs to provided new teachers. The point I was making was that by losing 50 percent of teachers during the first five years, it hurts the profession more than it helps it. One can’t count on people self-selecting out of a profession as a means to improve it.

  23. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:21 pm:

    Bill, could you specify what, exactly, you’re complaining about in that last little rant of yours?

    And, yes, fair share is the law for teachers and state workers. I stand corrected. Closed shops are illegal in the US of A. Union shops are the law for the private sector.

  24. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:49 pm:

    Gene: Very carefully. The union pres will try to help the poor performer improve, but will also help them read the writing on the wall when things are not going well. Maybe provide a realistic reference to the local in another district. It is in the union’s interest to move poor performers (and criminals) out of the profession.

    Scott: I agree, that 50% is much too high and includes the good, the bad, and the poorly supported.

  25. - Gene Parmesan - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 12:59 pm:

    Pot, thanks for the explanation. I wish more union prez’s would do that. And you’re correct, it is in the union’s best interest to move poor teachers out, unfortunately these two things don’t happen often enough.

    I think Reeder’s work perfectly highlights how dysfunctional the entire education system is in Illinois. It’s not just the teacher’s unions, or the administrators, or the ISBE, or the school boards, or the funding. They’re all screwed up and in need of considerable reform.

  26. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 1:24 pm:

    Wow. I never thought there would come a day when Bill, Cassandra, and ol’ AA all agreed on something. Watch out for lightning strikes.

  27. - 1930s Labor Racketeer - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 1:46 pm:

    Maybe it is just semantics, but I believe that due to some enforceable bargaining agreements with the unions, employers in Illinois can require you join the union in order to be hired–or that said employers only hire union personnel.

    Thus, I believe closed shops are legal if the employer is signatory to the bargaining agreement.

    Back on the main topic: Why are many secretaries in state government members of the teachers’ union?

    My way-back machine is low on batteries today…but the name Hartigan comes to mind…

  28. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 1:49 pm:

    ===I believe closed shops are legal ===

    Closed shops were outlawed by Taft-Hartley in the 1940s.

  29. - 1930s Labor Racketeer - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 2:23 pm:

    OK…I must be confusing “union” and “closed.” Point taken.

    That said, I’m pro-teacher, but do not understand how State of Illinois government support staff ended up in the teachers’ union.

  30. - Bill - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 2:26 pm:

    The point of my “rant” is that, like a lot of the other statistics used by Reeder in his continuing crusade against public school teachers, IQ is a false statistic. IQ is a theoretical ratio, subjectively computed, which does not measure competence, subject mastery, dedication, compassion, teaching techniques, common sense, or any of the other traits that make a good teacher. It provides false justification for the lie that only mediocre or worse teachers, you know, “the ones that can’t do”, remain in the teaching profession.
    Reeder’s articles attempt to place the blame for the problems in public education on public school teachers and their representatives rather than on inadequate funding, lack of parental involvement, lack of self motivation and an indifference, if not outright hostility, toward learning on the part of the student.
    If those are his opinions, fine, write a column. Don’t try to manipulate the facts by deceptively
    and incorrectly using “research”.
    Sorry if I am being a bit too obtuse.

  31. - Gene Parmesan - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 2:32 pm:

    Bill, Reeder’s work has far better statistics and methodology than the IQ aspect to which you refer. I must say, I’d rather hear his questionable use of IQ than your drive-by, inflammatory rhetoric such as, “The rest gladly join to protect themselves from teacher bashing, right wing zealots who want to treat teachers as second class citizens without due process rights and pay them atrociously low wages.”

  32. - Arthur Andersen - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 3:05 pm:

    Bill and Gene, I agree in part with both of you. Statistical data, properly used, can make powerful statements; misused, it can make the user look like a fool. One of my favorite thoughts on the matter came from a fantastic professor over there at Illiniwek Limousine University. He said:
    -”Your chances of winning the Lottery are only slightly enhanced by purchasing a ticket.”

  33. - Silent Majority - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 10:26 pm:

    Bill must be off his meds today.

  34. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Oct 17, 07 @ 11:14 pm:

    Nah. I think it must be hitting close is all.

  35. - Bill - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 7:02 am:

    Hey Silent,
    Bite me!

  36. - respectful - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 7:41 am:

    Arch and Arthur blame administrators for not doing their jobs documenting poor teaching. With a 6-figure $cost to try to fire a tenured teacher, with no guarantee it will even succeed, it’s little wonder so few districts even bother.

  37. - respectful - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 7:43 am:

    Can anyone really argue that teachers are 2,500% less likely to be incompetent than lawyers and 4,500% less likely than doctors?

  38. - respectful - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 7:44 am:

    Bill is a tad defensive. Is there nothing in the tenure process that should be streamlined??

  39. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Oct 18, 07 @ 9:02 am:

    And the point is…?
    If you want to improve education, one of the things we need to do is get rid of poor teachers. They are supported by legal rights and by unions, but those found to be violent, abusive, burned-out, incompetent and underperforming need to be removed quickly.

    Principals often don’t have the time or ability to go through all the hoops to push out bad teachers. When they consider the annual turn-over, there is always hope that the rotten teacher leaves and becomes another school’s problem. These poor teachers just hang around, collecting tenure and pay until they retire.

    If the Union really cares about this issue, they would make the elimination of poor teachers a higer priority than it is. Poor teachers damage not only children and co-workers, they damage the Union too. After years of hearing nightmares and how the Union had been a part of retaining many poor teachers, Union credibility is already damaged, and really needs to be addressed.

    There is a balance. We can find a way to certify that targeted teachers get their legal rights as citizens, as overseen by the Union and School representatives. However, currently the means of firing teachers is too burdensome on those who are charged with providing quality teachers for neighborhood schools, and this has to end soon if those who support public schools hope to keep students in them.

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