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The other side of tenure

Wednesday, Dec 7, 2005

I offered Dave Comerford of the Illinois Federation of Teachers an opportunity to respond to the Small Newspaper series on teacher tenure that I wrote about earlier this week. It seemed only fair, since the series is pretty hard-hitting.

The Small Newspaper Group series on tenure is unfortunate, misleading, and in some cases flat out wrong. The Illinois Federation of Teachers believes a number of points need to be made:

* Sixty-five percent of school districts have successfully dismissed a tenured teacher. The tenure process simply gives teachers due process rights when there is a dispute.

* In many cases, tenured teachers resign before a dismissal hearing is held. That data is not tracked by the ISBE, giving a misleading picture of the number of teachers actually removed from the classroom.

* School administrators are required by law to be trained in proper evaluation procedures. There is no reason for an administrator not to give a bad evaluation to an employee who deserves one.

* The four-year probationary period for teachers allows ample time for administrators to decide which employees to retain. Nearly half of teachers leave the profession in the first five years of employment.

Again, teachers leaving the profession who decided they could not handle
the demands of a teaching career would not show up in the numbers tracked by the reporter.

* The IFT does not support keeping bad teachers in the classroom, but believes strongly every teacher has a right to a fair hearing.

* Legal fees for most dismissal cases are less than half of the $100,000 figure used in the newspaper article. Dismissal hearings usually last 2-3 days. Well documented cases take even less time for an attorney and the cost is even lower.

* In 1997, the IFT supported legislation that reduced the remediation period from 1 year to 90 days. The IFT also supported legislation requiring continuing professional development for teachers that is mandatory for them to keep their certification.

* The Cicero case that the reporter cites involved a school employee, not a classroom teacher, who worked in multiple classrooms and was not supervised adequately. The article implies that the dismissal process for the employee stretched out over seven year s. This is not true. As soon as the district attempted to dismiss the employee, she resigned. The case did not go to hearing. Tenure played no role in this case.

* The reporter attempts to bury the fact that the assistant principal in East St. Louis was acquitted. Later, when DNA testing proved the allegations, the district fired the employee. Again, tenure was not the reason for the assistant principal remaining on the job; his acquittal by a jury was.

Your turn.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 2:05 am:


    It’s easy for people to criticize teachers, because most folks think teachers’ work days end at 3 p.m. (they don’t) and supervising 30 kids is the easiest job in the world (even though most sane people draw the line at 2), and who wouldn’t want their summers off, right?

    The truth is, most teachers work very hard, give their all to their students (even buying class supplies), and do one of the world’s toughest and most important jobs very well.

    Are there some teachers who probably don’t beloong in the classroom? Sure. But I guarantee there’s a lot less deadweight in the classroom than in the corporate board room. After all, even in Chicago where teachers are paid pretty well, you can’t afford to raise a family on a teacher’s salary. How many professions can you say that about?

    It’s not like they’re doing it for the money.

  2. - Bill - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 7:45 am:

    Thanks for allowing the other side to be heard. The notion that the unions want bad teachers in the classroom or that they protect bad teachers during hearings is absurd. What the unions try to protect are the rights of due process that school boards routinely violate or ignore. In every union contract and in state law there are clearly spelled out procedures to follow when performance is alledgedly sub-standard. The fact that highly paid administrators are either too lazy or incompetent to follow them should not be blamed on the teachers or their unions.
    As long as school boards, administrators, and our system of public education are political entities, tenure rights are necessary to protect hard working, competent teachers who dedicate their professional lives to educate our children.

  3. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 7:58 am:

    As a retired teacher, I understand the tremendous difficulty of the job and the meager pay, but how does that justify tenure when most employees paying the taxes are hired and fired at will?

    I can understand free speech issues at the college level, maybe high school, but certainly not middle or grade school.

    An illegal firing could still be challenged in court and a bad firing could be challenged in the local press…just as most other people have to do.

    For all the flak teachers take over tenure, it would be better to stop accepting the promises of politicians for future retirement benefits and start asking for upfront and appropriate fiscal compensation now!

  4. - reddbyrd - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 8:36 am:

    Could it be the media did not tell the whole story I am shocked and appalled. Tenure might be to generous, but I would sure want some protections from parents who complain daily about treatment their little snots get.
    Hope the IFT guy goes into full response mode so the Smalls don’t drop this opus into a lot of contests.

  5. - 4% don't cut it - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 8:41 am:

    Interesting how the IFT, IEA and others seek to claim credit for the 4-year probation period before a teacher gets tenure. When we passed that law in the mid 90s (going from 2 to 4 years), the teacher unions were furious. They would love to see it abolished today.

    As for the first point, I would like to see PROOF that 65 percent of districts have fired a tenured teacher. I don’t believe it.

  6. - BBJ - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 10:33 am:

    I love the part about “In many cases, tenured teachers resign before a dismissal hearing is held.”
    That’s true, I served on a high school board and that does happen more often than they’re fired. But what’s left out of that statement, is how they only resign when the union believes there’s a good chance of losing the arbitration and even then it’s usually with some sort of payout, typically around $10,000 and an agreement for a neutral recommendation. So our district would try to fire a tenured teacher, the union would fight it and then offer to have the teacher resign, with a buyout (which is always cheaper than paying for attorney’s to press the case further, a neutral recommendation when the teacher applies at another district and the school accepts it because we just want this teacher away from our students as soon as possible. Why else would so many resign before they are fired?

  7. - So-Called "Austin Mayor" - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 10:34 am:

    This is the most siginificant line: “In many cases, tenured teachers resign before a dismissal hearing is held. That data is not tracked by the ISBE, giving a misleading picture of the number of teachers actually removed from the classroom.”

    Failing to include tenured teachers who resign in the count of bad teachers removed from their posts is the equivalent of not including guilty pleas as convictions because they were never tried by a jury.

  8. - Anon - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 10:58 am:

    The one point that bothers me, coming from a small district is Mr. Comerford’s casual attitude when he says:

    “* Legal fees for most dismissal cases are less than half of the $100,000 figure used in the newspaper article. Dismissal hearings usually last 2-3 days. Well documented cases take even less time for an attorney and the cost is even lower.”

    Even if it’s $50,000, even $30,000 why would any small school district living on the edge want to undertake it? An attitude like that, my friends, is a sign that someone needs to get out of their office and back out into the real world.

  9. - Bill - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 11:30 am:

    Anon 10:58,
    All to often school boards, especially small ones, are willing to “undertake it” for reasons other than classroom performance such as retribution for union activity, to make room for a patronage or nepotism hire, to silence a critic of board policy, or just because an administrator or Board member doesn’t like an individual teacher.
    Why would they hesitate to “undertake it” for legitimate reasons? If anyone needs to get out of the office it is you. Try doing a teachers job for a few days and you’ll see what I mean. If your small district is “living on the edge” it is most likely because of an abundance of overpaid administrators, who by the way are not protected by tenure, but never the less, are rarely subjected to any meaningful evaluation.

  10. - Dave Comerford - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 3:01 pm:

    To “4% don’t cut it: Look at what we wrote. We’re saying that the 4 year period allows administrators more than enough time to weed out employees on the front end.

    Read Scott Reeder’s first story again. Reeder says 35 percent of cases taken to arbitration are overturned. That means 65 precent are ruled in favor of school districts.

    BBJ: How a district decides to handle a case is their choice. The bottom line is that most of the time an employee ends their employment when the district makes a case against them and those cases never go to arbitration.

    Anon 10:58. Your enterpretation of my “tone” is off base. The point I’m making is that Reeder blew the dollar figure way out of proportion to add even more slant to his hit piece. I haven’t seen a school district come out and say that they’ve built a good case against an employee but just can’t afford the legal fees, so they’re not going to arbitration. As was said earlier, if you build a good case, usually the other side won’t go to arbitration. Actually, you are not required to use a lawyer in an arbitration case. If a district felt strongly enough about a dismissal, but didn’t have the money, they could still proceed. There is no cost for an administrator to give an employee a bad evaluation.

  11. - 4% don't cut it - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 5:22 pm:


    I appreciate the clarification. However, I would like a Yes or No answer to the following questions.

    1. Did the IFT and other teachers unions OPPOSE doubling the tenure time from 2 to 4 years?

    2. If so (which did occur), then tell me why.


  12. - cooldaddy - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 7:44 pm:

    Rich, Thanks for providing a platform for a balanced discussion to the story. I’m saddened by the condition of our schools and simply pouring more money on the subject is not the answer.

  13. - Sage Observer - Wednesday, Dec 7, 05 @ 9:19 pm:

    I was intrigued by this comment:

    “There is no reason for an administrator not to give a bad evaluation to an employee who deserves one.”

    Come on now, even in the private sector the pressure is there to go along and get along. Most companies that go bankrupt do so because they FAILED to trim their workforces sooner. If you’re trying to say teachers and their unions are not totally to blame for the failure of administrators to do tough evaluations, you’re right. But that doesn’t make it any less of a problem, and it is a major problem for our education system.

    Here’s my question — do you think school administrators deserve an ‘A’ for the quality of their evaluations? All of them? 50%? If not, then we need to pay more attention to evaluations.

  14. - Anon to Bill - Thursday, Dec 8, 05 @ 7:03 am:

    Bill. That is the most half-baked “make fists out of your toes” explanation I’ve heard. If you don’t like “undertake it”, howabout “don’t do it.” My point was that anyone who casually tosses about $100,000 or $50,000 or $30,000 as a figure that seems acceptable to a small school district is out of touch.

    Most small schools WON’T do it even if they think the teacher IS a liability.

    I AM in the real world. Obviously, you’re making fists out of your toes under your desk and wondering when you can plant tulips.

    Good job, though, isn’t it?

  15. - Parent - Thursday, Dec 8, 05 @ 11:21 am:

    I don’t believe that Mr. Reeder’s numbers are that far off. Our school district has fired a teacher for touching children inappropriately. This battle has been going on for around two years and I am sure it is well over $100,000.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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