“Will the unions help keep poor teachers from returning to the classroom?” asked Saturday’s Washington Post, reminding us that union intransigience stretches from Madison,WI to Washington, D.C.
An independent arbitrator recently ruled that D.C. Public Schools will be required to hire back 75 teachers fired during Michelle Rhee’s tenure. On top of this, D.C. will also be required to pay two years in back wages, costing the city approximately $7.5 million.
Although the dismissed teachers were still in their probationary period, arbitrator Charles Feigenbaum claims that they were improperly let go because the district failed to comply with proper dismissal procedures.
As Feigenbaum noted in his ruling, according to the school district’s union agreement, if a probationary teacher receives negative reviews after both years of his or her trial period, the school district can dismiss that teacher. While the 75 dismissed teachers received negative reviews during their first year, and principal reports from the second year indicate poor performance–tardiness, unprofessional behavior, “rude and aggressive” demeanor, and so forth–because the teachers did not receive sufficient written explanations for their tardiness, D.C. Public Schools are being faulted.
D.C.’s situation is a prime example of the struggles leaders face today–as a result of collective bargaining agreements and entrenched policies– that make it nearly impossible to ensure the quality of teachers in their schools. This is not only bad for students, but it also makes it difficult for other teachers. Said Rhee:
It drives effective teachers crazy when there is somebody working next to them that is not pulling their own weight and when they inherit a group of kids… several grade levels behind because somebody didn’t do their job.
Rhee also noted a study “that concluded the United States would rise to the top among nations in student achievement if the lowest performing 5 percent to 8 percent of teachers were replaced with those who are average.”
But there is hope. At present, several governors and mayors across the nation are promoting policies to reform such laws–teacher tenure laws–that protect ineffective teachers and hence decrease a child’s chance for a good education. Governors and mayors from New York to Nevada, and most recently Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel, are promoting policies to ensure that students have the best opportunity to be taught by a quality teacher.
Meanwhile, leaders like Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin are beginning to tackle the fiscal problems associated with union demands that will unfairly burden future generations with massive debt.
It is promising to see so many state leaders standing up and saying no to bad policies and union demands and saying yes to the best interests of children and teachers alike. Protecting poor teachers at the expense of a child’s future is unacceptable. Policies that put students first are crucial to increasing educational achievement in the United States.