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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bad teachers

Over the next week I'm going to review a handful of education bills that were signed into law and give you the skinny: what's great and what is not so great?

I'll start with AB 225 - this bill allows tenured teachers with two unsatisfactory reviews in a row to be put on probationary status (aka tenure is revoked). Teachers must then do another year as a probationary teacher in which they can be dismissed at the end of the year if they don't improve.

Sounds great, but is this a good bill? The devil is in the details and well...this bill isn't that great once you get to know the details.

First, teachers can "fight" unsatisfactory reviews, forcing the principals into multiple meetings with the teacher. In these potentially lengthy meetings, the principal must explain the teachers deficiencies and provide reasonable assistance to help improve the teacher's quality. Over the course of 1 probationary year, the principal must do three of these evaluations with each probationary teacher. There is, I've been told, a considerable amount of paperwork and time required when you write an unsatisfactory teacher evaluation. It is such a headache for principals, that many just give teachers satisfactory evaluations and move on. This is why some 97 percent of teachers get satisfactory evaluations.

Even still, the bulk of those teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations keep their jobs in the end. According to the left-of-center think tank, Center for American Progress, Nevada keeps 99.4 percent of its teachers (according to Governor Sandoval it is 99.7 percent). The reason? Thanks to mountains of paperwork and the ability to fight unsatisfactory reviews and ultimately fight the job termination itself, it is a pain in the butt to get rid of the bad teachers. Worse still, according to one principal I interviewed last year (who feared being sent to Goodsprings for talking about the process and so will remained unnamed) admitted the easiest way to get rid of bad teachers was to give them a good review!


Here is how it works. Principals can figure out pretty quickly which new teacher stinks and which ones have potential. But instead of writing a bad review for the bad teachers and dealing with all the paper work, the principal writes a good review. With good review in hand, the principal then notifies the school district that they no longer need that teacher. The bad teacher, is then recycled back into the applicant pool where they are given first priority to any new job opening up in the district. In other words, bad teachers are just shuffled off to a different school.

This bill doesn't address that all.

Additionally, if the principal requests dismissal of the teacher, said teacher can continue the fight by requesting requesting arbitration. In other words, a tenured teacher still has four attempts to fight job termination. Worst of all, according to the Center for American Progress, Nevada actually fires more tenured teachers than untenured teachers.

In other words, very few, if any, bad teachers will be fired because of this new law.

These facts suggest not much will change. Unless the principal and student testing data evaluations are final (ie remove ability of teachers to fight and create mountains of paperwork and time wasting meetings for the principal) the bill won't do much of anything right now.

While this is not a victory of "action" it is a victory in the "war of ideas." The seed has been planted that "getting rid of bad teachers" is a good idea. Its only a matter of time before that seed grows and real meaningful legislation can take root.