City Hall wants to rid the public school system of bad teachers. How many fit that description? Who knows, but whether it’s one or a thousand and one, the city’s million-plus public school children will be better served without them.
The problem, of course, is tenure. Bad teachers with tenure remain on the payroll because it’s extremely difficult to get rid of them. Principals can’t be bothered with the endless appeals and hearings that accompany any attempt to dismiss poor performers. No wonder, then, that only .01 percent of the city’s 80,000 teachers are fired every year because of their performance, or lack thereof.
Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has told principals that the issue of mindless job protection for bad teachers “simply must be tackled.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg is putting together two teams of consultants and lawyers that will work with principals who are trying to free their schools from lousy teachers. A Teacher Performance Unit will document evidence of incompetence, thus building a case against teachers who simply aren’t doing their jobs.
It’s critical to note that City Hall is not being reflexively punitive. Along with the mechanism for firing teachers, the city is putting together another team designed to improve the performance of individual teachers. That means bad teachers will have a chance at redemption if they want to avoid abrupt unemployment.
Predictably, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, is outraged. Like so many of her peers who preside over public-employee unions, Ms. Weingarten is in the job-protection racket. For her and union leaders like her, it’s unthinkable to suggest that workers ought to be accountable for their performance. When management demands a minimum level of competence, the knees of union bosses begin to jerk, and they reflexively condemn the cruelty of The Man. She attacked the plan as nothing more than “a way to try to get rid of teachers”—which indeed it is. But Ms. Weingarten left out an adjective in front of the word “teachers.” The word is “bad.” Or “incompetent.” Take your pick.
Fortunately for the taxpayers and children of New York, Ms. Weingarten’s attempts to block change in the city’s public schools have failed. With any luck, that losing streak will continue. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein, with their backgrounds in the private sector, have infused the school system with a new ethos of accountability—beginning at the top. It was Mr. Bloomberg, remember, who demanded the abolition of the Board of Education, and mayoral control over the schools. He got it, and then asked voters to hold him accountable for the schools’ performance.
That kind of attitude doesn’t get you far in union politics. But that’s not Mr. Bloomberg’s concern. With about two years left in his term, the Mayor wants to leave behind a legacy of accountability in the city’s schools. This is another step in the right direction.