Another Unfair Hit Piece

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.

The War on Teachers Continues

The recent attack on tenure in California is a very troubling one. If the decision is upheld, attacks on tenure will no doubt begin flying around the country faster and fiercer than ever before.

This ridiculous Op-Ed in USA Today offers only questionable statistics and poorly-reasoned “solutions”. The author Eric Hanushek, who testified on behalf of the plaintiffs in the California tenure case, states “My own research suggests that replacing just 5% to 8% of the least effective teachers with an average teacher would noticeably boost the achievement of our current students and would pay off lavishly in the future”. It seems simple enough, replace “bad” teachers with “good” ones, and you’ll see improvements. But how does the author plan to attract “good” teachers to the profession to fill those gaps when school reformers are systematically stripping away most of the benefits once enjoyed by public educators? Skilled educators are leaving the field in droves because they’re sick of the attacks and degredation. If you want to attract better teachers, the solution would be increasing benefits instead of removing them.

Mr. Hanushek shows a gross misunderstanding of the entire tenure system throughout his arguments. Tenure is not a “lifetime employment decision”, nor does it fail to “support the education of children”. So many of the attacks on teachers in recent years have focused on the ancillary benefits enjoyed by educators, like quality health care, pensions, and yes, tenure/due process. Those ancillary benefits exist because they tend to attract quality candidates to a field that features low salaries compared to other public service professions. Remember, teachers’ working conditions are the same as students’ learning conditions. Stripping away those benefits AND keeping salaries low will, at the very least, create a far more stressful working environment for teachers.

In an excellent counter to Mr. Hanushek’s flawed reasoning, Slate’s Jordan Weissman tears apart the statistics behind the most recent attacks on teachers. Weissman quotes a law professor at UCLA, who offers perhaps the best rebuttal to this removal of rights.

“If 97 to 99 percent of California teachers are effective, you don’t take away basic, hard-won rights from everybody. You focus on strengthening the process for addressing the teachers who are not effective, through strong professional development programs, and, if necessary, a procedure that makes it easier to let go of ineffective teachers.”

Exactly! When a system is working for the overwhelming majority in a profession, why risk shaking up the entire profession rather than just targeting the small percentage of ineffective teachers? Hanushek is essentially fighting to ensure that no teacher is entitled to due process because he wrongly believe that it ensures lifetime employment for ineffective teachers. In reality, due process in education essentially means that teachers are entitled to a notice of termination, and the right to a hearing. Those certainly seem like reasonable things for any worker to enjoy, so why are people fighting so hard to take them away?

If you look at the legal definition of due process, nowhere does it say that it ensures employment for life, which is where Mr. Hanushek seems to be confused. Schools can absolutely fire a teacher with tenure, they just need to make sure that their reasons are well-documented.

Mr. Hanushek’s claims that these protections are unconstitutional should not hold up on appeal, thanks to the Due Process Clause in the 14th Amendment. What’s really troubling though is that these attacks continue to fly in from all angles, and the attackers are frequently spreading misinformation in an attempt to damage the public education system in this country. If Mr. Hanushek can’t even get his facts straight on basic procedural things, how are we supposed to trust his supposed research on ineffective teachers?