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Monday, February 13, 2012

How The Teachers Unions Are Ruining Our Schools

"All the perplexities, confusion and distresses in America arise not from defects in the constitution or confederation, nor from want of honor or virtue, as much from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit, and circulation." — John Adams

The Los Angeles Unified School District paid Mark Berndt, the teacher at the center of the Miramonte Elementary child-abuse scandal, $40,000 to drop a challenge to his dismissal last year. The Los Angeles Times reported:

“The payout consisted of four months of back salary plus reimbursement for the cost of health benefits. Berndt was fired by the Board of Education in February 2011 after officials learned that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was investigating him for alleged lewd acts against students.

He was arrested last week. The firing took Berndt off the district payroll, but he fought to keep his job through an appeal process that lasted until he settled with the school system and resigned in June.

The settlement with Berndt came in the face of a dilemma, said L.A. Unified general counsel David Holmquist. A hearing on the dismissal was pending and the district didn't have evidence to justify the firing because the Sheriff's Department investigation was ongoing.

"We were told we could not do any investigation," to avoid interfering with a law enforcement probe, Holmquist said. "We didn't have any evidence, and we couldn't put on any witnesses. We didn't have anything to successfully defend a challenge."

Berndt was charged last week with 23 counts of lewd conduct against children; another teacher, Martin Springer, was charged this week with three counts of lewd conduct. Berndt is alleged to have taken photographs of blindfolded children being spoon-fed his semen. Springer is accused of fondling a girl in his class.”

Berndt had been carrying on these despicable acts against children for years and the school and the Los Angeles Unified School District had numerous complaints from parents about is actions. It was not until a photo technician at a CVS pharmacy looked at the photos he had processed and notified the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department of what he had seen. Once sheriff department detectives viewed the photos they pulled Berndt in for questioning and ultimately charged him.

The school and LAUSD did nothing for years due to their fear of the teachers union. They knew that they could not act on parent’s complaints for fear of dealing with the union. The fact is that unless a teacher is caught in a lewd against children it is impossible to terminate him or her due to tenure and union rules. They cannot be terminated for unacceptable performance.

For years we have heard of New York City’s “Rubber Rooms” where teachers facing disciplinary actions go and do nothing while awaiting a hearing and collecting their full pay and accumulating pension and benefit points. Some of these teachers have spent as long as eleven years doing nothing while drawing their full pay. A recent example of this travesty involves a typing teacher at a New York City middle school.

After collecting his paycheck for a decade without ever setting foot in the classroom, former teacher Alan Rosenfeld retired last week, city officials said Friday.

According to a report in the Daily News:

“Rosenfeld, who earned $100,049 a year and gained notoriety for holding onto his do-nothing position since 2001, is now eligible for a pension, which could be worth more than $90,000 a year.

Though the city closed the so-called rubber rooms where teachers like Rosenfeld waited — sometimes for years — for the outcome of disciplinary action, there are still half a dozen the city can’t fire but has deemed a risk to kids.

Instead, the problem teachers are permanently assigned to the agency’s central or field offices to do administrative work, officials said.

Rosenfeld, 66, who taught typing at Intermediate School 347 in Queens, was originally brought up on charges of making inappropriate comments to female students in 2001.

An administrative judge made the decision not to fire Rosenfeld after much of the case was dismissed on procedural grounds.

Rosenfeld was found guilty of having told a student that she loved him.

The student testified Rosenfeld told her “that I love him. That’s why I talk to him so much,” according to records.

Rosenfeld was also accused oggling students rear ends and exhibiting a pattern of inappropriate behavior, but the judge did not rule on those matters.

Then-Schools Chancellor Joel Klein decided not to send Rosenfeld back to the classroom and to exile him to the rubber room.

In the midst of the political fight over the future of teacher evaluations, Rosenfeld’s case has been held up as a prime example of the difficulty of firing tenured public servants.

His case, though, does not focus on an issue of incompetence.

Rosenfeld was given satisfactory ratings by his last principal and even commendations, records show.

The case has also been used to point out bureaucratic incompetence, since city officials failed to make its case when it had the chance.

At one point, Rosenfeld, who is also a lawyer, was investigated for working on his real estate business on city time while he was in the rubber room.

No new charges were ever brought against him after that investigation, officials said Friday.”

For ten years Rosenfeld collected his pay and benefits and will now draw his pension for doing nothing. A six-year old can be expelled from school for sexual harassment by hugging a fellow student, but a teacher can look up the girl’s skirts or take pornographic photos and not be fired or disciplined. They have the union on their side, the kid only has taxpaying parents.

According to the pro-education reform documentary Waiting for ‘Superman,’ one out of every 57 doctors loses his or her license to practice medicine.

One out of every 97 lawyers loses their license to practice law.

In many major cities, only one out of 1000 teachers is fired for performance-related reasons. Why? Tenure.

Tenure is the practice of guaranteeing a teacher their job. Originally, this was a due process guarantee, something intended to work as a check against administrators capriciously firing teachers and replacing them with friends or family members. It was also designed to protect teachers who took political stands the community might disagree with. Tenure as we understand it today was first seen at the university level, where professors would work for years and publish many pieces of inspired academic work before being awarded what amounted to a job for life.

At the elementary and high school level, tenure has evolved from the original understanding of “due process” to the university-style “job for life.” In most states, teachers are awarded tenure after only a few years, at which time they become almost impossible to fire. The main function of these laws is to help bad teachers keep their jobs.

Consider New York City. The New York Daily News reports that “over the past three years [2007-2010], just 88 out of some 80,000 city schoolteachers have lost their jobs for poor performance.”

Things are no better in New York as a whole. The Albany Times Union looked at what was going on outside New York City and discovered some shocking data: Of 132,000 teachers, only 32 were fired for any reason between 2006 and 2011.

Or look at Chicago. In a school district that has by any measure failed its students — only 28.5 percent of 11th graders met or exceeded expectations on that state’s standardized tests — Newsweek reported that only 0.1 percent of teachers were dismissed for performance-related reasons between 2005 and 2008. When barely one in four students nearing graduation can read and do math, how is it possible that only one in one thousand teachers is worthy of dismissal?

In 2003, one Los Angeles union representative said: “If I’m representing them, it’s impossible to get them out. It’s impossible. Unless they commit a lewd act.” Unfortunately for the students who have to learn from these educators, virtually every teacher who works for the Los Angeles Unified School District receives tenure: In 2009, The Los Angeles Times reported that fewer than two percent of teachers are denied tenure during the two year probationary period after being hired. And once they have tenure, there’s no getting rid of them. Between 1995 and 2005, only 112 Los Angeles tenured teachers faced termination — eleven per year — out of 43,000. And that’s in a school district where the graduation rate in 2003 was just 51 percent.

One New Jersey union representative was even blunter about the work his organization does to keep bad teachers in the classroom, saying: “I’ve gone in and defended teachers who shouldn’t even be pumping gas.”

In ten years, only about 47 out of 100,000 teachers were actually terminated from New Jersey’s schools. Original research conducted by the Center for Union Facts (CUF) confirms that almost no one ever gets fired in Newark, New Jersey’s largest school district, no matter how bad. Over four recent years, CUF discovered, Newark’s school district successfully fired about one out of every 3,000 tenured teachers annually. Graduation statistics indicate that the district needs much stronger medicine: Between the 2001-2002 and the 2004-2005 school years, Newark’s graduation rate (not counting the diplomas “earned” through New Jersey’s laughable remedial exam) was a mere 30.6 percent.

The evidence that tenure laws keep bad teachers in schools is overwhelming. In New York State, outside of New York City, only about 17 tenured teachers are terminated annually. New York City’s Chancellor has revealed that in that city, only ten out of 55,000 tenured teachers were terminated in the 2006-2007 school year. In any given year in Florida, scholar Richard Kahlenberg wrote, the involuntary dismissal rate for teachers was an abysmally low 0.05 percent, “compared with 7.9 percent in the Florida workforce as a whole.” In Dallas, even when unofficial pressures to resign are factored in, only 0.78 percent of tenured teachers are terminated. Out of Tucson, Arizona’s 2,300 tenured teachers, only seven have been fired for classroom behavior in the past five years. Des Moines, Iowa a school district with almost 3,000 teachers, has fired just two for poor performance in five years.

So why don’t districts try to terminate more of their poor performers? The sad answer is that their chance of prevailing is very small. Teachers unions have ensured that even with a victory, the process is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming. In the 2006-2007 school year, for example, New York City fired only 10 of its 55,000 tenured teachers. The cost to eliminate those employees averages out to $163,142, according to Education Week. According to the Albany Times Union, the average process for firing a teacher in New York state outside of New York City proper lasts 502 days and costs more than $216,000. In Illinois, Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group found it costs an average of $219,504 in legal fees alone to get a termination case past all the union-supported hurdles. Columbus, Ohio’s own teachers union president admitted to the Associated Press that firing a tenured teacher can cost as much as $50,000. A spokesman for Idaho school administrators told local press that districts have been known to spend “$100,000 or $200,000” in litigation costs just to get rid of a bad teacher.

It’s difficult even to entice the unions to give up tenure for more money. In Washington, D.C., school chancellor Michelle Rhee proposed a voluntary two-tier track for teachers. On one tier teachers could simply do nothing: Maintain regular raises and keep their tenure. On the other track, teachers could give up tenure and be paid according to how well they and their students performed with the potential to earn as much as $140,000 per year. The union wouldn’t even let that proposal come up for a vote, however, stubbornly blocking efforts to ratify a new contract for more than three years. When it finally did come up for ratification by the rank-and-file, the two-tier plan wasn’t even an option.

Most teachers absolutely deserve to keep their jobs and some have begun to speak out about the absurdity of teacher tenure, but it’s impossible to pretend that the number of firings actually reflects the number of bad teachers protected by tenure. As long as union leaders possess the legal ability to drag out termination proceedings for months or even years — during which time districts must continue paying teachers, substitute teachers to replace them, and lawyers to arbitrate the proceedings — the situation for students will not improve.

Even Al Shanker, the legendary former president of the American Federation of Teachers, admitted, “a lot of people who have been hired as teachers are basically not competent.”

No business or organization can survive with the rules and regulations the teachers unions impose on our local school districts. These unions are ripping off the taxpayers for the benefit of the union and its members. They don’t give a damn about the students they are supposed to teach. They collect dues from their members, dues that come from taxpayer money, and contribute to politicians (usually Democrats) that will increase their power.

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