Firing Teachers: Why Has the Mayor/Department Tried to Fire So Few Teachers?

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
remedial actions.

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.


8 responses to “Firing Teachers: Why Has the Mayor/Department Tried to Fire So Few Teachers?

  1. what the Mayor/DOE have done is to set records for the #of 1st year teachers who receive ratings of UNsatisfactory and Termination. In effect they bully these Teachers because they have very little recourse…ANd because the Principals who come out of The Mayors Leadership program are trained to do so. I have met very few that have any idea or inclination as to how you go about the business of teachinhg new teachers how to teach…


  2. Teaching is the single most complex activity I know of and to do it well requires a number of skills and a great deal of experience. The teacher in the classroom is simultaneously trying to relate to and motivate up to 34 individuals who don’t necessarily wish to be there. That is not something that the Mayor, the current schools Chancellor, the attorneys t the DOE or, unfortunately, most of the principals in the system fully understand or are able to do.
    When it comes to correcting teacher practice the single most effective procedure is not shared planning or peer observations, but modeling and coaching in the classroom. Most administrators are loathe to model the practices they preach because they are afraid to fail in front of their teacher. One can learn from a failed model lesson as well as from a successful one, but the modeler has to be willing to take that risk. When I did something like that to convince a veteran first grade teacher that a student she wanted removed did not belong in Special Education but could benefit from certain behavioral interventions, I did not teach a great first grade lesson but she saw what I wanted her to see and began implementing those interventions (probably more successfully with first graders than I could have) and the young man remained in general education.
    Every textbook on teaching today stresses that teachers should model what they want students to learn and be able to do. Where are the school administrators/instructional leaders who are willing to model what they think the “ineffective” teachers need to do to improve their practice?


  3. Our legal system is based n English Common Law. The fundamental principle underlying that system is that a person is INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty. Therefore the burden of proof lies with the person who brought the charges. If a teacher is identified by a principal an Unsatisfactory then there should be thorough, complete, and comprehensive documentation to support the claim because the teacher is innocent until PROVEN guilty. That requires the expertise necessary to document the allegation. A lawyer in an office for the D.O. e. is not an educator. Wher is the thorough, complete, and comprehensive training that the D.O.E. provides to train the principals?


  4. Peter Will we ever be able to talk about the 10,000 pound gorilla in the room? Parental involvemnet and socioeconomic status are far more important indicators of a students success than any ” new ” way of structuring a lesson . I am an educator( 20 years and counting ) who got a great education from the NYC public school system… my parents cared….. i had a pencil …. i had respect for my teachers…. Sure along the way I had some teachers who were better than others but i managed a PHD out of it. If we really want to address the problem we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that we as a nation are falling behind and the LEAST of our problems are bad teachers


  5. Peter:

    That is why PIP+ was agreed to by both sides. This program takes the instructional responsibility off the Principal and allows a DOE paid evaluator to observe the teacher. Interestingly, these PIP+ observers do not model a classroom lesson but simply critiques it. Leaving it up to the teacher to implement it herself.

    The PIP+ has a 90% failure rate and if you read my blog on PIP+ you will see it is simply a termination program. I bet most every termination or resignation by teachers who were charged with incompetence took the PIP+ program.

    Those teachers smart or lucky enough to not take PIP+ probably survived the 3020-a process with their job since the DOE had no “expert witness” to testify against the teacher



  6. And there’s the problem. We don’t want bad/burnt out teachers working with our students,, and we don’t trust anything the DOE does that tends to move out teachers who are not making it. Leaving aside the issues around what metric to use to evaluate teachers and focusing only on the trust issue, the problem is who do we trust to evaluate whether a teacher is good or not. Chaz points out the problem with PIP+ in that it is not a supportive program, merely an evaluative one. I pointed out earlier the need for principals to be educational leaders who are competent and able to work with teachers and model expectations, not merely arrange for PD or interclass visits.
    If the DOE can’t work with teachers and their union to develop a program that is primarily supportive, not merely evaluative, of teachers then we will never develop real control of our profession. Doctors learn from observing and working alongside other doctors in internships. We need the same kind of system to prepare and support teachers.


    • Hi Marc, I just wanted to compliment you on your concise and thoughtful responses. It’s reassuring to see your name, and know your voice is being heard. Your insight and perception punch crisp holes through tragic flaws in the DOE system.


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