Judge Deals a Serious Blow to State Rules that Protect Deadbeat Teachers from Firing

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Several times over the years I’ve been asked to work on behalf of the United Teachers Los Angeles, better known as the Los Angeles Teachers Union, during political campaigns and various labor negotiations.

I’m a friend of many teachers and I come from a family of teachers, so it’s understandable that they would ask. But I’ve always politely ducked the request because I’m uncomfortable with the actions of UTLA here in Los Angeles, and the California Teachers Association, the statewide teachers organization.

I’m all for educators being properly compensated and having good work conditions, but in my opinion the teachers unions lost their way a long time ago, instead devoting a huge amount energy to protecting a small but significant percentage of incompetent teachers who in any other business would have been fired years ago.  And by keeping these bad teachers and dead wood in the classroom, I believe they’ve done tremendous harm to the students who are the sole purpose for the school district to exist.

Just in my own first-hand experience I’m aware of two separate situations where parents at two different Los Angeles public schools brought their school principals direct evidence that  long-time tenured elementary school teachers were drinking on the job on a daily basis. The drinking was so bad that elementary students were noticing it and telling their parents. In almost any other job other than booze tester, drinking on the job is a slam-dunk firing. There’s not really a good defense for why you’re drinking out of a flask during morning nutrition break.

The parents were sure the teacher would be fired. Imagine their surprise, then, when the school district simply transferred the offending teacher from a public school in an affluent neighborhood with outspoken parents to one in a tough, inner-city neighborhood where the same bad behavior is likely to fly under the radar screen families dealing with much larger and more difficult issues. So the poor kids in the already disadvantaged school now have one more handicap against their learning – a drunk teacher. Allow me to repeat. The school district knowingly moved not one but two different drunken teachers to different schools without even addressing the problem behavior. This reminds me, in many ways, of the Catholic Church continually relocating predator priests to new assignments rather than addressing the actual problem of them molesting kids in their parish.

Why would LAUSD sweep a teacher’s drinking under the rug rather than fire them? It’s simply too difficult to fire a bad teacher and likely to result in years of litigation.

Today, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge ruled against the statewide practices that have made it almost impossible for schools to fire underperforming or incompetent teachers like this once they’ve been granted tenure. In his ruling, Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote, “Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students. The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

I’d like to think that the unions would at some point wake up to the fact that by creating a system and a culture where drunks and incompetents are protected they have also created a culture that diminishes and undermines the contributions of the huge majority of teachers who are competent, caring and well-intentioned.

But so far that’s not the stance the union is taking to this ruling. Instead, Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers, is still tilting after some vast anti-teacher conspiracy as the culprit. Pechtahalt told the New York Times that, “We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of American’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education.”

If he really believes that, I think it’s time to look in his desk to see what he’s been drinking, too.

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