Thursday, September 17, 2009

Education again

There were some belated comments to my recent education posts.

Regarding rubber rooms it was pointed out that it wouldn't matter that it is almost impossible to fire teachers after they get tenure if school districts never made mistakes when awarding tenure. This is true but unrealistic. Probably school districts could do a better job of selecting new teachers but perfection is impossible.

The New York City school district has been attempting to fire Colleen McGraham since 2005 when she developed a crush on a 15 year old boy. As of June 2008 the city had successfully appealed an arbitrator's 90 day suspension as too lenient but as far I can tell the case is still going on. Meanwhile she collects her salary.

In a similar case it took many years and multiple court appeals for the New York City school district to fire Cary Hershkowitz .

At least these teachers weren't criminally convicted of anything, unlike Alabama teacher Charlene Schmitz who continues to be paid while serving a 10 year sentence in federal prison for seducing a 14 year old.

I am unaware of any way that school districts can effectively screen out all teachers who will develop a propensity for this sort of thing.

These are extreme cases but it stands to reason that if it is difficult to fire teachers like these it will be almost impossible to fire teachers who are merely a little incompetent.

Regarding teachers there was some anecdotal evidence offered that teachers can make a differences. Some of this evidence was for remedial classes while I have been primarily talking about typical classes. More importantly I don't trust anecdotal evidence.

Consider this story :

Within a couple of weeks, Schonfeld, then a 46-year-old interior designer, got quickly and dramatically better, able once again to care for herself and her husband and daughter, no longer so convinced of her own worthlessness that she'd consider killing herself. For the next two months, she came back weekly for more interviews and tests and EEGs. And by the end of the study, Schonfeld seemed to be yet another person who owed a nearly miraculous recovery to the new generation of antidepressants -- in this case, venlafaxine, better known as Effexor.

A miracle drug? Not quite, she was on the placebo.


  1. Teachers are sitting ducks for discussions such as this. We talk about the unworthly ones who don't do their jobs and can't be fired,(I don't do this myself, being a retired teacher), but how about politicians?...Do they continue to get their retirement pay or fringe benefits after some error that makes them leave office or receive censure? pick the scenario: caught paying off a mistress, flying to Argentina, taking bribes for senate seats, etc. The reason teachers get so much of the limelight is because we would really like to trust teachers. People probably don't trust politicians as much, but they seem to overlook more of their ethical picadillos.

  2. As far as I know, no one is proposing (and I would generally oppose) that fired teachers lose any pension or retirement benefit that they earned while in good standing.

    Teachers get criticized because they are almost uniquely difficult to fire. How often do you hear of people in other professions collecting their salarly while sitting in federal prison. The only other example that comes to mind is federal judges and when they refuse to resign when sent to prison Congress generally impeaches and removes them as it did with Claiborne and Nixon .

  3. So teacher have an advantage on one thing: as you say, they get to keep their small pensions if they do something wong.(This pension is made smaller by the Windfall Elimination Tax which bites into any Social Security income they may be entitled to.) However, teachers also have many other stresses to deal with that other jobs don't have. They spend long, long hours grading papers and attending many meetings. They have to keep order in huge classes with emotionally disturbed or disruptive sudents, while at the same time the public is scrutinizing every move. I believe that statistically teachers are among the most law abiding of the professions and that these strange cases such as you are citing are very rare.

  4. I imagine federal judges are pretty law abiding on the whole also but any profession has its bad apples. There are some 3 million teachers in the United States and if only one in thousand are guilty of serious misconduct each year that is still 3000 teachers a year that should be fired. In many cases this seems unduly difficult. Would it really be so bad if school districts were allowed to fire teachers convicted of felonies without going through a prolonged (and uncertain) arbitration process?

  5. Obviously I am not advocating that teachers convicted of felonies not go to jail in a timely fashion. The strength, however, of the New York City teachers union increased most likely due to the teachers' need to protect themselves from harrassment. In Denver, CO where I live, the teachers union is much weaker. Teachers here are sometimes at the mercy of administrators in ways that wouldn't occur in NYC. I know several teachers who had difficulty being hired in other schools because of one abusive administrator. Having tenure does not always protect the teacher either. Sometimes, word of mouth among administrators can lead to an unofficial "don't not hire" mandate. It's contrary to the contract, but it happens.