The high cost of firing (or not firing) teachers

Firing teachers is “so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don’t make the effort except in the most egregious cases,” reports the Los Angeles Times, which looked at 15 years’ worth of records in Los Angeles Unified School District.

The vast majority of firings stem from blatant misconduct, including sexual abuse, other immoral or illegal behavior, insubordination or repeated violation of rules such as showing up on time.

. . . Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can’t teach is rare. In 80% of the dismissals that were upheld, classroom performance was not even a factor.

When teachers can’t teach well, principals must spend years trying to help them improve. An ineffective teacher may fail to instruct up to 1,300 students in the five years it often takes to removed a tenured employee, says a middle school principal.

The review panel overturns a third of firings.

The district wanted to fire a high school teacher who kept a stash of pornography, marijuana and vials with cocaine residue at school, but a commission balked, suggesting that firing was too harsh. L.A. Unified officials were also unsuccessful in firing a male middle school teacher spotted lying on top of a female colleague in the metal shop, saying the district did not prove that the two were having sex.

Fourth-grade teacher Shirley Loftis “failed to give directions to students, assigned homework that wasn’t at the appropriate grade level and provided such inadequate supervision that students pulled down their pants or harmed one another by fighting or throwing things,” the district charged. The commission agreed that Loftis had burned out, but “suggested administrators find her another job — perhaps training other teachers.”

One principal spent years trying to fire a teacher for sexual harassment. He failed. Then he switched to a charter school where teachers have no union protections. He fired three ineffective teachers in his first year.

Update:  In response to the LA Times story, LA Unified will lobby for a state law making it easier to fire tenured teachers.  Naturally, the teachers’ union will fight it.

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