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Wanted: Bad Teachers for Tenure

Wanted: Bad Teachers for Tenure

In Queens, 60 year-old math teacher, Francisco Olivares, allegedly impregnated and married a 16-year-old girl he met when she was a student in his junior high class.  A decade later, he molested two 12-year-old students. 

Three thousand miles away in Los Angeles, special education teacher, Matthew Kim, was accused of touching co-workers’ breasts and making improper advances and comments toward students.

Despite their offenses, Olivares and Kim continue to collect their $94,154 and $68,000 salaries, respectively. 

What’s worse is that Olivares and Kim are not anomalies.  Currently there are about 600 tenured teachers in New York and 160 in LA in similar situations.  These teachers have not stepped foot in a classroom since facing criminal and disciplinary charges, yet they are paid to twiddle their thumbs until the charges against them are resolved. 

What exactly do districts do with their “unfit” teachers?  There are a few options…

In Los Angeles and San Francisco, teachers used to be assigned to non-teaching jobs, such as working in warehouses or answering phones, while awaiting their trials.  However, the district’s current contract with the teachers’ union prohibits them from assigning clerical duties to these idle teachers.  “Why would we denigrate [teachers] by forcing them to do something they’re not supposed to do?” said A. J. Duffy, President of United Teachers of Los Angeles.


In New York, teachers report to “Rubber Rooms” during the same hours they would typically be at school.  The New Yorker’s Steven Brill took a peak into one of the city’s Rubber Rooms and found teachers sleeping, playing board games and chatting.  According to Brill, many Rubber Room teachers consider themselves the victims of the system, comparing their “plight” to that of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  Last time I checked, Guantanamo Bay prisoners aren’t collecting six-figure-salaries and pensions.   

While in the rubber room, Brill spoke with 56 year-old, Brandi Scheiner, who was suspended from her job as an elementary school teacher due to “incompetence.”  Scheiner opposes the rubber room policy and blames New York City’s School Chancellor, Joel Klein, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  “Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence,” she said.  “Everyone knew that an incompetent teacher would realize it and leave on their own,” Scheiner added.

After doing some research of my own, I strongly disagree with Scheiner.  In addition to the teachers placed in Rubber Rooms and those idly waiting for their cases to be resolved, there are thousands of incompetent teachers who remain in the classroom.  These teachers cannot teach, yet they cannot be fired.

LA Weekly reported that in the past decade, the Los Angeles Unified School District spent $3.5 million trying to fire seven of the district’s 33,000 teachers for poor classroom performance.  Despite their efforts, only four were fired.  Two others were paid large settlements and one teacher was reinstated.  The report also notes the district secretly paid $50,000 to 32 teachers to leave without a fight.   

Trying to fire unfit and underperforming tenured teachers is an excruciatingly slow and expensive process.  It requires years of data collection — in essence, years of failing students and millions of dollars lost.  Legal struggles wear on for years, causing principals and district leaders to give up. They know that in this system, teachers’ interests almost always trump those of the city or students.

If we all agree the key to a good education is a good teacher, why does our country’s tenure system prevent so many students from getting the education they deserve? Tenure protects the jobs of teachers who have sexually assaulted students, who abuse alcohol during the school day (see Patricia Adams) and who continually fail to lead a safe and productive classroom.

How is it that so many unfit teachers are granted this ironclad job protection?

In most states, teachers must wait a whole three years before being granted a lifelong job.  According to the LA Times, “Principals are not required to consider testing data, student work or grades,” in granting tenure.  A New Teacher Project study of tenure evaluations found that “less than 1% of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, even in schools where students fail to meet basic academic standards, year after year.” Less than 2% of teachers are denied tenure in LA.

These statistics are frightening.  How can we demand success from our students, when the bar for our teachers is set so low?

Let’s hope that President Obama’s focus on turnaround schools and teacher accountability can reform our system into one that cares more about students’ learning than teachers’ security. 

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Fiona O'Sullivan

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1:51PM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

Thank you for article.

1:50PM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

Thank you for article.

1:50PM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

Thank you for article.

5:02PM PDT on Oct 7, 2010

Never heard of this before. Thanks for the info.

10:51PM PDT on Apr 22, 2010

Rewarding bad teachers by continuing to pay them ?? Sack them & have done with it. STOP PROTECTING THESE LOW-LIFES.

8:31AM PDT on Apr 19, 2010

In my experience, the reason it is hard to get rid of bad teachers is that the system is full of BAD ADMINISTRATORS who don't do the job of documenting the problems, even when students, parents, and the GOOD TEACHERS beg for help. It is frustrating. But, if you remove all job protection, it doesn't mean you'll get rid of bad teachers. You'll just give those same crappy administrators (who pull down double the salary of teachers) free rein to fire anybody that speaks up while the administrators continue "good buddy" cover ups and nepotism runs rampant.

6:33AM PDT on Apr 10, 2010

Thank you for this news though!

6:32AM PDT on Apr 10, 2010

this is terrible and disgusting.

9:28PM PDT on Mar 19, 2010


I agree that a lot of corruption in the systems contributes to the problems, but I hardly think that privatizing schooling is a way to fix it.

For one, private schools are expensive. Even some charter schools fail while getting more funding that the public schools in the same districts, so these aren't much of a solution, either.

The problem with private groups is that there's nothing stopping them from trying to make a profit because they're not as beholden to the government as are public schools.

Corruption is certainly a more fixable thing than greed and trying to make money in a private organization.

There are many cracks in the foundation of public education, and the systems, administrators, unions, and teachers are no more or less guilty.

Another problem with private schooling is that they are allowed to exclude in their admissions.

While public schools would open their doors to children with behavioral or developmental disabilities or those who are homeless or otherwise live in poverty, it's beyond disgusting to conceive that they might be denied education in what you would imply to be a "reformed" system.

The starting point for fixing this still has to be the teachers because regardless of money, they're the ones who are either performing or not in the education of the students; if a child can't read or perform basic math, it's because the teachers didn't teach, not because of any given "system."

9:03PM PDT on Mar 19, 2010

One possible reason that people are getting away with inappropriate behavior in public schools is that the systems are busy and top heavy. Smaller structures have checks and balances in place where community members monitor one another in friendly ways. Mentor teachers and parents help new teachers become aware of sensitive issues, of acceptable practices and lines that should not be crossed. This covers everything from the need for openness in all kinds of communication to the things teachers just don't do, like sitting behind closed doors and covered windows alone with students. Theses problems seem to me more possible in top heavy systems that don't adequately support local schools, providing them with adequate numbers of personal, distracting them with endless administrative trivial pursuits. Teachers as the problem is a red herring. It is a ruse. You reporters should start sniffing up other trees. Lay bare the awful, ugly truth. Maybe government will graciously bow out of education some day, playing a trivial role of oversight, just to insure equity, open to a variety of democratic forms. There is nothing that says it has to be involved in it constitutionally, just that if it is involved, it must be involved for all people. Perhaps public money could be simply directed for private use without much middle level governmental siphoning. The sounds of sucking public funding might yet be stilled, if you reporters expose the ugly, systemic truth.

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