Firing Teachers in California


Amid all its money problems, the school system in L.A. specifically and California generally also has a problem with getting rid of teachers suspected or accused of incompetence. An L.A. Times investigation finds a record of expensive, often fruitless attempts to get rid of teachers deemed unacceptable.

The Times' findings can be summarized thusly:

[Firing teachers] in some cases involving years of investigation, union grievances, administrative appeals, court challenges and re-hearings.....The Los Angeles Unified School District sees the majority of its appealed dismissals overturned, and its administrators are far less likely even to try firing a tenured teacher than those in other districts.....

* Building a case for dismissal is so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don't make the effort except in the most egregious cases. The vast majority of firings stem from blatant misconduct, including sexual abuse, other immoral or illegal behavior, insubordination or repeated violation of rules such as showing up on time.

* Although districts generally press ahead with only the strongest cases, even these get knocked down more than a third of the time by the specially convened review panels, which have the discretion to restore teachers' jobs even when grounds for dismissal are proved.

* Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can't teach is rare. In 80% of the dismissals that were upheld, classroom performance was not even a factor.

Why is it so hard to fire bad teachers, even when they are hurting the kids they are supposed to serve? "Kathleen Collins, associate general counsel for L.A. Unified, explained it this way: "Kids don't have a union."

The Times' lengthy report has some specific examples of failed attempts to get rid of teachers from L.A.:

The district wanted to fire a high school teacher who kept a stash of pornography, marijuana and vials with cocaine residue at school, but a commission balked, suggesting that firing was too harsh. L.A. Unified officials were also unsuccessful in firing a male middle school teacher spotted lying on top of a female colleague in the metal shop, saying the district did not prove that the two were having sex.

The district fared no better in its case against elementary school special education teacher Gloria Hsi, despite allegations that included poor judgment, failing to report child abuse, yelling at and insulting children, planning lessons inadequately and failing to supervise her class.

Not a single charge was upheld. The commission found the school's evaluators were unqualified because they did not have special education training. Moreover, it said they went to the class at especially difficult periods and didn't stay long enough.

The cash-strapped district often finds itself spending six figure sums trying to remove teachers for cause.

Reason magazine, where I work, did a similar feature in its October 2006 issue, complete with cartoon chart, on how hard it is to fire teachers in New York.

Past City of Angles blogging on L.A. USD's money problems here and here.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)