Sunday, December 6, 2009
Teacher Jail in Los Angeles
Venom flows from the newspapers and the Los Angeles United School District for the "wayward instructors", "bad teachers and instructors", "trash" that teach in Los Angeles' public schools.
And we thought the New York Post and NY Daily News were graphic in their tirades against "rubber room" inhabitants? Just read the articles below. And what's happening in Rochester is even worse (coming soon to this blog).
The teachers and inhabitants of the rubber rooms (New York City has them, as does Rochester NY, Los Angeles, California, and other states) cannot be lumped together into any category. Each case is unique - a combination of personality, circumstance, whistleblowing retaliation, misconduct and/or sheer stupidity - and there can be no justification for lightly passing over the frightening truth that every person placed into a re-assignment is undergoing an extremely stressful experience that will alter his/her life forever, and change the paths of the children and family members connected however closely to this person, as well.
Editor, NYC Rubber Room Reporter
Free Pass From (Teacher) Jail
President Monica Garcia and a cowed LAUSD board punt on firing bad teachers
By David Ferrell
published: June 25, 2009
Mediocrity is so entrenched in Los Angeles public education that an entire lexicon has emerged.
“Teacher Jail” refers to the housing of wayward instructors inside district offices — away from vulnerable students — essentially paying them not to teach, even as long and costly probes are conducted into allegations of sexual harassment, molestation, insubordination or other acts. The “Dance of the Lemons” is cynical shorthand for shuffling lousy principals and teachers from one unsuspecting campus to another rather than address their incompetence. And “L.A. Mummified” is the district that oversees it all.
For most of her eight years on the Los Angeles Unified School District board, Marlene Canter has
been horrified by tales of bad teachers and administrators and, especially, over how difficult it is for Los Angeles schools to get rid of them. At one point recently, 158 instructors and staff members were in the teacher pokey — drawing full paychecks as they fought their dismissals. One of those instructors was relieved of his duties due to harassment allegations in 2002, and has now spent seven years doing nothing but collect his salary, get top-of-the-line health care and enjoy taxpayer-funded vacations.
During that span, according to officials, the one-time special-education teacher has reaped wages and benefits estimated at a stupefying $2 million — an income stream that continues to flow his way despite a budget crisis that is causing other, competent teachers to be booted to the streets.
“It’s really a problem,” understates Canter, a former teacher and teacher trainer, who decided to press for reforms to make it much easier for school districts in California to fire their worst classroom instructors. It’s a goal about as difficult as any Canter has ever tackled, as she discovered again this month in persuading the dysfunctional Los Angeles school board to pass a watered-down resolution that addresses the problem. The board narrowly passed the resolution, by a 4-to-3 vote.
Not only did she face intense opposition from two powerful unions — the California Teachers Association and the United Teachers of Los Angeles — but also from board members themselves, who were all but paralyzed by concerns about ruffling union feathers at a time when the troubled district is laying off teachers and facing rancorous contract negotiations.
In fact, Canter says, she spent an astonishing eight months just trying to get the “teacher-quality” matter placed on the agenda, due to school-board president Monica Garcia’s stubborn reluctance.
“I’ve been blocked since October,” Canter says ruefully. “Anybody I talked to about this didn’t want to talk about it. There are people who would much rather I be silenced.”
What she had in mind was a modest aim, seeing as a “resolution” is one of the weakest actions an elected body like a school board can take. A resolution merely states an official position, and sometimes a resolution launches a study. Under Canter’s plan, the board would simply have implored the California Legislature to tweak the state Education Code, to finally give the schools a way to remove inept, tenure-shielded teachers from the payroll.
But immediate pressure from the teachers unions — CTA and UTLA — forced Canter to rid the resolution of all language dealing with teacher incompetence, thus sparing hordes of chronic no-shows and burn-out cases in Los Angeles schools. Instead, she settled for at least targeting a much smaller group of teachers, those accused of actual illegal or illicit behavior, such as having sex with a student.
Even that wasn’t enough to persuade the exceedingly nervous school board, most of whose members were ushered into their elected posts thanks in part to teacher-union cash and other UTLA help. Instead, it took a substitute motion by board member Yolie Flores Aguilar — who, like Garcia, is an ally of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — to create a sufficiently palatable plan.
Aguilar stripped it entirely of Canter’s call for immediate action by the California Legislature — and still drew “no” votes from school-board members Julie Korenstein, Richard Vladovic and Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte. The resolution now envisions a task force — yet to be assembled — that purportedly will hash out exactly what, if anything, the district should ask the Legislature to do, probably months from now, if ever.
Critics say the clear winners are union leaders and the city’s worst teachers. “I’m skeptical, at best, that this will result in any action at the school-site level,” says Joe Hicks, a product of Los Angeles schools, who now helps to run Community Advocates Inc., a political think tank. “It’ll probably get bogged down in the bureaucracy. The district itself or the union will find a way to stall ... [and] never enact any major decisions.”
Hicks adds, “Every school has legendary tales ... of teachers who are simply not performing up to the demands of the job, but, because they have the support of the UTLA, are protected. Or they’re transferred around; they’re just sent to another school. That’s always been the sticking point — the union has gotten its way. Just about all the board members are beholden in one way or another to the union — the UTLA.”
Canter says that since 2001, she and the board have been told of incredible, persistent, rotten-teacher problems during closed-door personnel briefings and in conversations with Kathleen Collins, an attorney who joined the district about the time Canter was elected to the board. Collins was handling dismissal cases and was often outraged over teacher misconduct — and exasperated at how difficult it was to fight the bad ones, especially if young students had to be called as witnesses.
Collins began documenting the district’s losing struggles in internal memos, which started to attract attention. Says Collins, “Every case seemed to bring some new problem to my attention.”
Eventually, she discussed some of the most shocking cases with Canter, as well as with Ted Rohrlich and Jason Song of the Los Angeles Times, whose creepy, in-depth series about the near-impossibility of firing bad teachers was published in May. The series elicited about 1,500 Web comments and nearly 300 e-mails, according to Song. The stories ran just as Canter was about to give up pushing the highly reluctant, union-indebted LAUSD board members to act. The intense public anger in response to the articles made Canter reconsider.
“I decided I’d have to, on behalf of the people,” she says.
Never mind that the resolution ultimately adopted is widely seen as a cave-in to Villaraigosa’s allies Garcia and Aguilar. The fact that Canter introduced it at all draws a venomous response from A.J. Duffy, the blustery head of the UTLA. Rather than speak to the issues, the first thing Duffy does is launch a gratuitous attack on Canter herself.
“I think it’s politically motivated,” Duffy tells L.A. Weekly, revving up his hostility. “Marlene Canter has been pretty much a do-nothing school-board member. ... I think her only claim to fame is she presided over the largest increase in bureaucracy in the history of this district.”
Duffy accuses Canter of going after bad teachers in order to grab headlines and attain higher office — but can’t offer any facts to support his accusations. “What a platform,” he says. “‘I got rid of bad teachers.’ In fact, she did nothing.”
Only after spewing about Canter does Duffy get around to saying, “We recognize there are some people in the profession who don’t belong there,” citing, as one example, a school administrator caught at the beach making out with a 15-year-old girl. “[But] 99 percent of our teachers do a great job.”
Now that the weakened resolution has been approved by the school board, Duffy pronounces himself in full support. “Because it calls for what I originally called for — a commission to study this issue.”
Unlike L.A., some cities are joining a movement to let schools fire bad, tenured teachers — not just sexually and physically abusive teachers — who can hurt the achievements of thousands of children during a single, unfortunate career. L.A.’s school board, which has known about, discussed extensively in private, and punted on the issue for years, will instead create a commission to study the problem.
What is the Dance of the Lemons? Bad teachers being passed around
By: Ericha Parks
Why are school districts prevented from laying off or firing under-performing teachers? The unions. At a time when our financial education crisis is at an all time high, school administrators' hands are tied. How much influence do the teachers unions have in the personnel matters of public school teachers? Plenty.
It is difficult to imagine why anybody would create obstacles for the termination of a poorly performing teacher. However, the unions make costly restrictions for firing a tenured teacher and will support the offending teacher in legal actions. This has caused school districts to be overcome with legal fees and time-consuming procedures, sometimes taking years to accomplish with appeals.
We already know that class sizes will explode this fall, according to the New York Times. Many qualified teachers will be leaving their teaching posts as a result of the massive rounds of layoffs resulting from the financial education crisis in California. On the flip side, many unmotivated and poorly performing teachers will remain.
This debate has many questioning the force behind this tenure practice and what action can be taken. It looks promising that federal reform for education is being discussed, a bit too late in the case of California teachers. However, President Obama has weighed-in announcing in March, "It is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones." But who makes the case against merit pay for teachers? The teachers’ unions oppose merit pay citing that test scores would be a flawed formula to determine success in a classroom.
Certainly, most of us agree that test scores are not the measure by which teachers should be judged. It makes sense because students’ background and learning paces vary. But isn’t it possible to evaluate teacher success in a more traditional way? Even Obama has vowed to find a better way to track student progress in order to determine teacher accountability. At stake for the unions: their own relevance. Teachers’ unions have to create a following for membership whereby promising security for its members who pay the dues. Teachers’ unions have such a hold on the legislature by virtue of their lobbying power and campaign contributions, that reform is nearly impossible.
I tried to reach A.J. Duffy, president of UTLA, the Los Angeles teachers’ union, to ask him what formula could be made to determine merit other than using test scores. Although I was authorized to pose the question for comment to UTLA’s Communications Department, Mr. Duffy has not returned my phone call. The result of keeping contracted teachers employed is a practice of transferring an offending teacher within the school district if that teacher has poor performance at the preceding school site.
According to Teachersunionexposed.com, this practice is called "the dance of the lemons" or "passing the trash." The unions are the architects of this practice by disallowing a teacher to be fired for poor performance. UTLA has come under fire recently for failing to reform its contract or collective bargaining agreement, which would give the school district more flexibility in adjusting pay, benefits and more creative ways to save money so more or all teachers can be spared unemployment. In recent days, Arne Duncan, Secretary of the US Department of Education and Obama, both are calling for education reform by the teachers unions.
Steve Lopez of the LA Times, just last week, ran a column expressing frustration with the teachers’ union. Lopez critizes UTLA and its confusing and voluminous 347-page collective bargaining agreement. Lopez, in his column, appeared to be confused and lost "in Article IX, Hours, Duties and Work Year." And again, "between Pages 108 and 132, under Article XII, Leaves and Absences." So far there has been little movement from the teachers union. On the other hand, UTLA practices publicity stunts masquerading as teacher-supporters.
One such stunt, called Pink Friday, on March 13, had all teachers and students wear pink in protest of the layoffs. What makes this bizarre is the fact that had it not been for the UTLA contract, teachers would probably not be in this position. Certainly a reform of the collective bargaining agreement would mitigate the damage to schools and class sizes by allowing creative solutions such as furloughs and across-the-board pay reductions to be considered as a solution.
Eliminating a bad teacher is also in the hands of the parents. What can parents do to report a bad teacher? Click the next link:
Nation pushes for teacher merit pay - the politics: good teachers v. bad teachers
How Are Teachers' Unions Using Their Power?
Dance of the lemons; Bill lets principals pick their own teachers
Duncan Stresses Merit Pay to Teachers Union
In Tough Love Speech, Education Secretary Urges Teachers to Rethink Rules on Seniority
The Dance of the Lemons
By Peter Schweizer
Why is the quality of teachers so low? Just try getting rid of a bad one. Hoover media fellow Peter Schweizer explains.
National Education Association president Bob Chase, undaunted by the news that more than half of Massachusetts teachers had failed their competency tests, characterizes the problem of bad teachers as a matter of “a few bad apples.” But when America’s children returned to the classroom last fall, many of them were instructed by teachers who are not only incompetent but sometimes actively dangerous. And the teachers’ unions make removing them nearly impossible. In recent years, the unions have gone to bat for felons and for teachers who have had sexual relations with their students, as well as for teachers who demonstrably could not teach. For the unions, apparently no apple is so bad that it need be tossed from the barrel.
HOW THE SYSTEM PROTECTS PROBLEM TEACHERS
The process of getting rid of problem teachers, especially those with tenure, can be so arduous and expensive that many school districts don’t even bother anymore. “Getting rid of a problem teacher can make the O. J. trial look like a cakewalk,” says Mary Jo McGrath, an attorney in Santa Barbara, California, who helps administrators deal with bad teachers. “For a principal, it can seem a lot easier to hang on to the deadwood. Teachers are more protected than any other class of employees, with all the procedural rights that can drag a civil case out for years.”
“Legally, the union doesn’t need to take every case we make against a teacher,” explains Stephen M. Robinson, a former teacher who is now an attorney representing six school districts in Rhode Island. “But they do. They’ll defend even the worst offenders.”
Michael Levin, an attorney for several suburban Philadelphia school districts, says, “I’ve been in this business for twenty-five years. Nothing surprises me any more. I just had my first cannibalism case.”
Much of the problem stems from the tenure system, which means that after three or four years it is virtually impossible in most states for a teacher to get fired. “Tenure was originally designed to protect the best teachers from wrongful termination,” says the reform-minded Frank Brogan, Florida’s first Republican education commissioner. “Today it protects the worst teachers from rightful termination.” And teachers can expect their unions almost always to back them up, no matter what they have done. As Kathleen Winter, copresident of the Scituate Teachers Association in Rhode Island, admitted to the Providence Journal-Bulletin, “Teachers pay substantial amounts of money to the union. If I’m paying $450 a year [in dues], if I get into a jam, I want something for my money.”
The problem teacher gets quietly passed along to someone else. Administrators call it “the dance of the lemons.”
In 1994 a teacher in Florida was in just such a jam. Florida Department of Education (FDOE) investigators were alerted by local officials that a student had been coaxed by a teacher into a sexual relationship, including oral and anal sex. When confronted with the evidence, the teacher resigned. But he insisted on keeping his teacher’s license so that he could work in a classroom somewhere else. “Naturally, we didn’t think it was a good idea to have this guy near kids,” the investigator who handled the case says. So the FDOE pushed to have his license permanently revoked. But the local NEA affiliate supported the teacher. An administrative law court finally ruled that he should lose his certification permanently, but it took more than two years and tens of thousands of dollars in legal and administrative costs to reach that point.
In 1996 school administrators in San Francisco discovered that a teacher was placing her six-year-old students in a trash can, closing the lid, and kicking the can. She was finally suspended when a fellow teacher overheard her threatening to cut off a child’s private parts with a pair of scissors. Thanks to heavy resistance from the local affiliate of the NEA, pursuing her dismissal cost the district more than $100,000, and the woman later got a teaching job elsewhere.
Michael Levin, the attorney for the Philadelphia schools, says these cases are typical: “The teacher fights you and doesn’t just walk away,” he told me. “The union will back them.” A recent study by the New York State School Boards Association found that the average termination in the Empire State took 319 days and cost $112,000. If the teacher appeals the decision, the cost is likely to top $300,000. In Illinois the average contested dismissal case takes three years and costs at least $70,000—more if the teacher appeals. Given the cost in time and money, few teachers actually get terminated. In the entire state of New York only 219 termination cases were brought in the 1996–1997 school year.
And the monetary costs go beyond administrative and legal expenses. In many states, contracts negotiated by teachers’ unions mean that bad teachers continue to get paid during the dismissal process, no matter how gross the offense. James Plosia, an attorney for the Northern Highlands Regional School District in New Jersey, says, “It’ll usually take eighteen months or two years before you finally complete the case. So on top of legal bills and administrative costs, you’re paying them more than a year’s worth of salary.” That applies even if they are serving time in jail.
Getting rid of teachers who have committed crimes is difficult. Getting rid of teachers who are simply incompetent is nearly impossible.
Consider the case of Carolyn White. A fourth-grade teacher at the nationally acclaimed Watchung Elementary School in suburban New Jersey, the forty-eight-year-old had logged twenty-seven years in the classroom. She was kind to her students, but she would disappear from the classroom for long periods. Her homework assignments were confusing, and due dates changed at a whim. Her written comments to students were indecipherable. In May 1996 a five-year-old student accidentally discovered cocaine in White’s lipstick case. Eventually she was arrested for drug possession. The district superintendent suspended her almost immediately, but she continued to receive her $56,000 salary throughout the monthslong criminal hearings. It was part of her teachers’ union contract.
PASSING THE TRASH
Often, as a way to save time and money, an administrator will cut a deal with the union in which he agrees to give a bad teacher a satisfactory rating in return for union help in transferring the teacher to another district. The problem teacher gets quietly passed along to someone else. Administrators call it “the dance of the lemons” or “passing the trash.” Howard Fuller, the superintendent of Milwaukee public schools from 1991 to 1995, explains: “Administrators found they needed to trade bad teachers because it’s easier than getting rid of them. We had one teacher who put a student’s head down the toilet. He simply got moved to another school.”
Robert C. Devaney is another case in point. In November 1981 Devaney abruptly resigned as a special education teacher at North Providence High School in Rhode Island after a student complained that he had made sexual overtures. But Devaney got good references and began teaching elsewhere, skipping from job to job as his sexual misconduct caught up to him—but always leaving with a good reference. Finally in May 1996 Devaney was in jail, sentenced to serve twenty years for sexually assaulting a special education student and making sexually explicit videotapes and photographs of two other students.
Never once did Devaney’s references mention any of his misconduct. In each case administrators found it easier to “pass the trash” than to fight the local union for his termination. At the sentencing hearing, Superior Court judge Maureen McKenna Goldberg said, “The employment background of this defendant who was shuffled from one school department to another, from one bureaucrat to the next, is a crime in itself.”
Administrators’ great fear is getting on the wrong side of the unions. Stephen Robinson explains: “I have to make sure I cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s with the teachers’ union when handling a case because they’re going to come after me. The union takes a very aggressive stance when it knows a teacher is in the crosshairs. There will be a very aggressive union rep at prehearings, at postevaluation meetings. The rep walks into the administrator’s office and questions the administrator’s right to do A, B, or C. It takes a very strong-willed administrator to fight through that.”
TENURE REWARDS INCOMPETENCE
Getting rid of teachers who have committed crimes can be expensive, but it happens. What is nearly impossible is getting rid of a teacher who is simply incompetent. School district officials in Saint Louis had to work for three years to get rid of an algebra teacher who passed out As to students who would bring her Big Gulps and Snickers bars. In suburban Chicago, a school district had to fight the union the entire way, spending $70,000 in the process, in order to dismiss a math teacher who couldn’t answer basic algebra questions. But these cases are the exception, James Plosia says: “Even though it is possible to remove an incompetent teacher, the process that you have to follow means you win the battle, but lose the war.”
Not even failing to show up for class will cost a tenured teacher his job. In 1997 Wallace Bowers, an English teacher in Collinsville, Illinois, was fired from North Junior High School when he failed to come to school for six weeks. When he finally returned, Bowers said he wanted to keep his job, but Superintendent Thomas Fegley stood firm: “We don’t necessarily concur that somebody can quit coming to work for six weeks and get his job back.” So Bowers challenged the district, with the backing of the powerful Illinois Education Association, an affiliate of the NEA. In the end Judge Henry X. Dietch found in Bowers’s favor, not because of the merits of the case but because of the strange protections offered teachers under Illinois law. If a teacher’s conduct, whatever it might be, is “remediable,” a school board must offer a notice to remedy before firing the teacher. Bowers went back into the classroom and received full back pay.
Some states have adopted new policies to make it easier to dismiss incompetent teachers. In 1997 Frank Brogan, whose qualifications as Florida education commissioner include a stint as a fifth-grade public school teacher, championed a law that compresses the process for termination from two years to ninety days and institutes a ninety-seven-day probationary period for new teachers. During the 1997–1998 school year, 303 teachers either were let go or resigned during the new probationary period. But termination unfortunately does not guarantee that a teacher is out of the classroom. “We have actually gone through the process and revoked the teaching certificates of some individuals only to have them show up as a paraprofessional—a teacher’s assistant—in the same classroom the next day,” Brogan complains. “They get virtually the same pay and benefits.”
Now even some public school teachers are turning against the absurd system. Joe Nathan spent fourteen years as a public school teacher in Minnesota and served on the board of the Minnesota Parent-Teachers Association. His wife still teaches in a public school. Today, as head of the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey Institute, he has blunt words about the current system. “The tenure system is really adult welfare,” he told me. “It cheats kids of the most effective faculty, and keeps some of the worst teachers in place. It’s a system that puts the needs of adults first.”
That is certainly the case when it comes to hiring and firing on the basis of seniority, which prevails in almost every state. The result is often that ineffective teachers keep their jobs while hard-charging younger teachers are shown the door. On Thursday, May 28, 1998, Sarah Gustafson was inducted into the Florida Educator Hall of Fame by Commissioner Brogan, an acknowledgment of the Florida Teacher of the Year award she received in 1991. The next day, she was canned by the Brevard County School District. Her school was cutting back because of declining enrollment, and the former Teacher of the Year had less seniority than several colleagues with mediocre job appraisals.
There have been efforts around the country to change teacher tenure laws. At least four states—Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Colorado, and New Mexico—have eliminated tenure for new teachers. But the problem is more fundamental than that. Mary Jo McGrath, who is advising outgoing California governor Pete Wilson on tenure issues, thinks that, even if tenure is taken away, it probably won’t become significantly easier to can bad teachers. “Even if you change the procedure from tenure to something else, you still have harassment from the unions,” she told me. “As an administrator you want peace. You don’t want the union nipping at your heels.” Until the unions’ power is broken, the minor fixes will remain just that.
Meanwhile, what about the cannibalism case in Philadelphia? “The teacher was telling students and fellow teachers that she lured a young girl to a remote house where her father and a next-door neighbor killed the girl. She told one teacher that she ate part of the girl,” says Michael Levin. No body has been found, and so criminal charges were not filed. The teacher was fired, however—and because she was a substitute the union did not make a fuss. However, the school system, Levin notes, is now in court. “She’s suing us under the Americans with Disabilities Act on the grounds that she suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome.”
Reprinted from National Review, August 17, 1998, from an article entitled “Firing Offenses.”
Available from the Hoover Press is What’s Gone Wrong in America’s Classrooms, Williamson M. Evers, editor. To order, call 800-935-2882.
Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. He has served as a consultant to NBC News and as a member of the Ultra Terrorism Study Group at the U.S. Government's Sandia National Laboratory. He and his wife, Rochelle Schweizer, wrote The Bushes: Profile of a Dynasty, which the New York Times called "the best" of the books on the Bush family. His other books include Do as I Say (Not as I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy and Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph over Communism.