Getting Rid of Incompetent Teachers

Getting Rid of Incompetent Teachers

In a lawsuit against the state of California, a group of students successfully argued that teacher job protections violate their right to "basic equality of educational opportunity." As Politico reported, the judge found that school systems "permit too many grossly incompetent teachers to remain in classrooms across the state." The unions are almost compelled to fight the decision, because the court's findings are so embarrassing.

The ruling could be a big win for public-school students if three provisos are met. First, the ruling must survive court appeals. Second, school systems must implement it swiftly and fairly. Third, student advocates must continue the push for reform on other key issues.

The union has already staked out the preposterous stance that the difficulty of removing incompetent teachers is merely a matter of due process. In California and at the national level, they talk as though the primary purpose of schools is to provide union jobs rather than to educate students. The public usually backs teachers, but on the tenure issue that support may slip away, in part because the issue has now been successfully framed as a civil-rights matter, not just another labor-law tiff.

For students to benefit, school administrators must follow the spirit of the ruling. They must swiftly remove incompetent teachers -- tenured or not. They also must start granting tenure later than they often do now -- e.g., Los Angeles gives tenure within 18 months on the job. Grants of tenure should require consistently good teaching performance, measured in part through student test scores, over five or more years.

The court found that, compared with others, Hispanic and black students were more frequently assigned to horribly incompetent teachers. School administrators need to address that by dismissing the incompetent teachers -- not by redistributing the incompetence more fairly.

Student advocates deserve a short end-zone celebration, but they must not overstate the scope of the ruling. The ruling addresses the removal of bad teachers, but it does not address the other issues that will determine the success of education reform -- e.g., Common Core, classroom size, mainstreaming, social promotion, and adequate student testing.

Students still need our help.

Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research.

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