Why hasn’t the Mayor/Department brought charges for incompetence against more teachers?
In the ten years of mayoral control the department moved from charging about 25 teachers a year to 88 teachers in the 11-12 school year – that is slightly over one tenth of one percent of the total number of teachers. As Susan Edelman in the NY Post reports in that school year the department won 11 cases and 39 teachers “quit in settlements.” Fifty teachers out of more than 75,000 teachers were dismissed or quit; are there very few ineffective teachers in the school system or is the city/department unable/unwilling to pursue charges against more teachers?
In the 2010-11 school year, the DOE charged 78 teachers with incompetence, it says. Hearing officers agreed to terminate 18 after long administrative trials. Other teachers kept their jobs with lesser penalties, such as paying a fine or taking a course
But 49 settled and resigned or retired, bringing the total booted to 67.
Last year, the DOE charged 88 teachers with incompetence. It won just 11 dismissal cases but tossed 39 teachers who quit in settlements.
In 2010 the union and the department changed the procedures to speed up the process – State Commissioner King called the New York City procedures “a model for the state.” The cases since the change in the law from the time charges are filed to the decision takes about 100 days – reduced from about a year.
What does the current law say about teacher dismissal?
The teacher dismissal procedures fall under section 3020a and 3012a of State law,
in cases in which charges of incompetence are brought based
solely upon an allegation of a pattern of ineffective teaching or
performance as defined in section three thousand twelve-c of this
article and shall provide that such a pattern of ineffective teaching or
performance shall constitute very significant evidence of incompetence
which may form the basis for just cause removal.
In the real world of schools teacher performance is assessed by the principal. One would expect the assistant principal, the principal and an outside observer would observe a lesson, meet with the teacher to discuss the lesson, reduce the observation and the conference to a written document embedding specific recommendations. The written documents should be linked; each observation/conference should reflect the extent the teacher accepted the recommendations and the improvement or lack thereof.
Improving instructional practice is at the core of the role of the school leader. We know teachers improve when they have the ability to reflect on their practice with other teachers – hopefully in common planning time built into the school day and facilitated by a coach or a lead teacher.
To their credit the department produced a detailed 2012-13 Instructional Expectations document – it is lengthy, detailed and clear.
Teachers and schools know, or should know, what is expected in their classrooms.
Unfortunately some teachers, in spite of interventions of school leaders, are ineffective. The department has an obligation to work with the ineffective teacher to improve their practice, and, if adequate improvement is not the outcome the department should take steps to discharge the teacher. The department has a legal obligation under the law to “… [make] efforts towards correcting the behavior of the employee which resulted in charges being brought.” The penalty imposed by the arbitrator upon a finding of guilt are specified in the law and dependent upon the role of the employing board in working to “correcting the behavior” and, in the opinion of the arbitrator, whether the employee has the ability to improve their practice.
At the request of the employee, in determining what, if
any, penalty or other action shall be imposed, the hearing officer shall
consider the extent to which the employing board made efforts towards
correcting the behavior of the employee which resulted in charges being
brought under this section through means including but not limited to:
remediation, peer intervention or an employee assistance plan. In those
cases where a penalty is imposed, such penalty may be a written
reprimand, a fine, suspension for a fixed time without pay, or
dismissal. In addition to or in lieu of the aforementioned penalties,
the hearing officer, where he or she deems appropriate, may impose upon
the employee remedial action including but not limited to leaves of
absence with or without pay, continuing education and/or study, a
requirement that the employee seek counseling or medical treatment or
that the employee engage in any other remedial or combination of
About 60% of all teachers and most current principals were hired under the Bloomberg administration. In too many schools principals are not effective evaluators of teachers, they are administrators of schools. The network structure, in most cases, does not have the ability to train principals, and superintendents have only one staff member. I understand clusters, about 250 schools each, have one assigned attorney. Commonly school leaders observe teachers once a year, and, if flaws are found in a lesson too many schools simply do not have the capacity to establish a plan for the flawed teacher.
The department has directed school leaders to participate in the instructional process, “frequent brief observations with meaningful feedback.” In some schools principals conduct “instructional rounds,” similar to the practice of doctors in hospitals, dropping into many/all classrooms almost every day. In other schools the school leader is unwilling/unable/uncomfortable with their role as instructional leader. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” becomes the mantra – there is little interaction between the school leadership and what is happening within classrooms.
Why are so few teachers charged?
I suspect that the administration conducted a cost-benefit analysis: what would it cost to pursue charges against a larger number of teachers and to what extent would it increase student achievement? As Ian Ayres explains to us in “Super Crunchers,” (2007) it is commonplace to use data-driven analysis (“multiple regression analysis”) to make a wide range of decisions – from who to draft or trade in baseball, i. e., sabermetrics, to decisions in health care and policing to assessing teacher effectiveness. Using “big data” to analyze gigabytes of data incorporating many variables is a standard tool. In other words that data might show that firing hundreds of teachers and hiring new, inexperienced teachers, with high attrition rates and costs of hiring many lawyers may not result in increasing student achievement.
It is an irony that the tools that are being used to determine teacher effectiveness may also have been used to decide it was not cost effective to pursue incompetence charges against more teachers.
The next mayoral administration, which may be much more favorable to parents, teachers and unions, may also pursue more cases of incompetence against teachers, if they are warranted.