A Times investigation finds the process so arduous that many principals don't even try, except in the very worst cases. Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can't teach is rare.Let's take a few minutes to review some more of this:
It is incredible and not in a good way.
It's remarkably difficult to fire a tenured public school teacher in California, a Times investigation has found.
The path can be laborious and labyrinthine, in some cases involving years of investigation, union grievances, administrative appeals, court challenges and re-hearings.Not only is the process arduous, but some districts are particularly unsuccessful in navigating its complexities. The Los Angeles Unified School District sees the majority of its appealed dismissals overturned, and its administrators are far less likely even to try firing a tenured teacher than those in other districts.
The Times reviewed every case on record in the last 15 years in which a tenured employee was fired by a California school district and formally contested the decision before a review commission: 159 in all (not including about two dozen in which the records were destroyed). The newspaper also examined court and school district records and interviewed scores of people, including principals, teachers, union officials, district administrators, parents and students.
Among the findings:* Building a case for dismissal 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. 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.
* Although districts generally press ahead with only the strongest cases, even these get knocked down more than a third of the time by the specially convened review panels, which have the discretion to restore teachers' jobs even when grounds for dismissal are proved.
* 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 teaching is at issue, years of effort -- and thousands of dollars -- sometimes go into rehabilitating the teacher as students suffer. Over the three years before he was fired, one struggling math teacher in Stockton was observed 13 times by school officials, failed three year-end evaluations, was offered a more desirable assignment and joined a mentoring program as most of his ninth-grade students flunked his courses.
As a case winds its way through the system, legal costs can soar into the six figures.
Meanwhile, said Kendra Wallace, principal of Daniel Webster Middle School on Los Angeles' Westside, an ineffective teacher can instruct 125 to 260 students a year -- up to 1,300 in the five years she says it often takes to remove a tenured employee.
L.A. Unified officials have struggled with the system more than most.Sometimes the strength of a union can be detrimental. Membership in a union should not provide blanket protection without care or concern for the actions of union members.
Of the 15 tenured employees on record as fighting their terminations before review commissions in the last decade and a half, nine won their jobs back.
The main reasons: Commissions did not find the district's evidence damning or persuasive enough.
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.
The district fared no better in its case against elementary school special education teacher Gloria Hsi, despite allegations that included poor judgment, failing to report child abuse, yelling at and insulting children, planning lessons inadequately and failing to supervise her class.
Not a single charge was upheld. The commission found the school's evaluators were unqualified because they did not have special education training. Moreover, it said they went to the class at especially difficult periods and didn't stay long enough.
Four years after the district began trying to fire Hsi, the case is still tied up in court, although she has been removed from the classroom. Her lawyer declined to comment on her behalf. The district's legal costs so far: $110,000.
Over the years I have heard many stories from friends who are teachers or otherwise employed in the district. There have been plenty of stories that are positive and make you feel good, but there are far too many that make you cringe.
Teachers are exceptionally influential. I have long argued that they should be paid more because their work is invaluable. But at the same time a bad teacher is incredibly dangerous too. It is very serious problem and we need to take action to improve things.