Hot on the heels of the Vergara decision in California, the New York Post has decided to step into the fray and attack tenure in the schools of New York City. They begin with an anecdote designed to cause outrage and alarm, a story about a teacher sexually harassing students with inappropriate comments and physical contact. The authors of the piece express surprise and anger that the teacher was slapped with a fine and an order to attend a sexual harassment workshop, rather than being fired.
That’s not the part of the story I take issue with. I agree that the teacher involved got off with a very light punishment. If I had kids of my own, I definitely would not feel comfortable having them work in close quarters with that teacher. As teachers, we are in a position of power and trust, and it is our duty to not abuse that by attempting to take advantage of a student.
But then, the Post loses the plot. The authors cite some actual, concrete statistics (something that Eric Hanushek fails to do in his statements attacking tenure), stating:
Of 133 educators taken to trial since 2013, the city Department of Education has gotten just 50, or 37.6 percent, fired, it said. In 77 cases, hearing officers found the employees guilty of poor performance or wrongdoing, but imposed lesser penalties. Six cases were dismissed.
Okay, fine. The Department of Education attempted to get 133 teachers fired, and an independent hearing determined that firing was too harsh a punishment in many of those cases. There are a few problems with the Post’s manufactured outrage though. For one, they only offer details on eight of those 133 cases. Not a single shred of insight is offered on the other 125. Perhaps the Department of Education made a poor case. Perhaps the independent arbiter felt that the issues were correctable with less extreme measures. By not expounding on the bulk of these cases, the Post is basically asking the readers to make a leap of faith and assume that the cases were all equally valid, fireable offenses.
Secondly, the title is pure sensationalism. “It’s nearly impossible to fire tenured teachers” is far from the truth. Yeah, it’s tough to fire a tenured teacher…if administrators don’t do their homework and collect well-documented reasons to fire said teacher. Based on their batting average, that’s probably exactly what happened with the NYC DOE.
And lastly, the Post is attempting to attack the entire tenure system based on the fact that the NYC DOE attempted to fire 133 teachers since 2013. That’s 133 teachers…out of 75,000. For those of you that prefer percentages, that’s less than two percent of all teachers in New York City. That leaves over 98 percent of teachers diligently working to deliver a quality education, without a major issue. Ninety-eight percent is an incredible batting average. It tells you that the tenure system is working for the overwhelming majority of teachers in New York City.
If the Post is really concerned about those 133 teachers, perhaps they would be better served looking at the administrators who granted them tenure in the first place, instead of attacking the 74,000+ teachers who continue to do a great job.