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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