From Shut Up and Let the Lady Teach, by Emily Sachar, Poseidon
Press, Chapter 19:
I spoke for several hours with representatives of the Board of Ed
and the UFT (teachers union) [about accountability of teachers and
principals for job performance] ... The statistics were eye-opening.
During the most recent school year, of 62,000 NYC teachers, only 606
-- less than 1% -- were rated Unsatisfactory (U) by their principals.
"In a school system where more than 99% of teachers are rated
satisfactory, there is no accountability and no need for a rating
system," said James Stein, Director of the Office of Appeals and
Reviews for the NYC Board of Education, whose office is responsible
for helping principals get rid of bad teachers. "Nowhere in the world,
in any workforce of which I am aware, does the percentage of
satisfactory ratings come close to what we have at the Board of Ed. So
we must conclude that the current system is meaningless."
Randy Weingarten, counsel to United Federation of Teachers
president Sandra Feldman, agreed....
But principals were even less likely to receive unfavorable
reviews. Of the more than 1,000 principals in the NYC school system,
only one had received a U rating the prior year..
"Is that because everyone's doing such a fine job?", I asked
"No," he said. "It's because supervision and accountability are
nonexistent in the NYC schools ... We will not solve our problems
until we resolve whether we are a keeper of the public trust or merely
an employment agency".
The greatest impediment to giving U ratings to teachers is that
after giving one to a teacher, the principal can not transfer the
teacher out of the school for three years.  Stein says, "Principals
tell teachers: 'You deserve a U but I'll give you an S if you agree to teach
somewhere else'. It's like a game of Old Maid."
Even when given, a U rating has little long-term effect on a
teacher. If the teacher has not yet reached maximum salary, pay may be
frozen for a short while. But at the maximum pay level, U-rated
teachers receive the same wage increases set for all by collective
bargaining, and do not lose their license or job, nor any benefits or
job rights.  Some teachers have received U ratings year after year for
periods as long as nine years in a row.
Tenured teachers are virtually impossible to dismiss. Over the
prior 11 years the Board of Ed had dismissed only 19 teachers
for incompetence -- less that 2 per year from a work force of over
60,000.  "Once you've got tenure, you've got a suit of armor around
you", says Stein.
Because of this, a principal's most potent weapon against
incompetence might be thought to be tenure review, which follows a
three-year probation period.  But in the prior year, of 7,000
teachers reviewed, only 10 were denied tenure.
Dismissals of teachers for incompetence became much rarer after
1979, when decision making power in such cases was removed from the
Board of Ed and invested in a costly and time consuming arbitration
process. The typical case now takes 15 months to decide, and the Board
of Ed spends $33,000 per day on salaries for teachers suspended with
pay while awaiting decisions.
Arbitration panels are composed of three members -- one selected
by the teachers union, one by the  Board of Ed, and one by the other
two.  Decisions are almost always compromises.  Even in cases where
panels find as a matter of fact that the most extreme abuses have
occurred, discipline typically consists of job transfers and referrals
to training programs -- virtually never dismissal.
Records of cases where teachers are found innocent are sealed.
But in cases where teachers are found to show incompetence or be
guilty of  an abuse, panel findings become part of the public record.
Among these cases:
[] A first grade teacher, enraged by her students, took off a
high-heeled shoe and used it to strike a boy repeatedly in the head.
She then stalked across the room and repeatedly hit another
seven-year-old boy. Both boys needed hospital treatment and multiple
stitches to close wounds.
The panel reported:
"First, Respondent did not intend to inflict harm, but wanted the
students to refrain from disrupting the educational problem (sic) ...
Second, while Respondent struck two students at the opposite ends of
the room, these acts were only a single event ... It would be unduly
harsh to discharge a ten-year teacher for having 'lost her cool' for a
few moments on a single day"
She was returned to teaching.
[] In the case of a teacher whom the Board attempted to dismiss
for incompetence, the panel found:
"The Respondent needs work on organizing his thought processes.
His analysis is foggy and leads him to teach in a disjointed and
disorganized manner. His lesson plans bear evidence of this -- for
instance, his use of a McDonald's franchise to illustrate colonialism
was incorrect. His refusal to acknowledge these weaknesses is indeed
The teacher was allowed a fresh start at a new school.
[] In another case of alleged incompetence, a teacher let students
play cards in class, required no notetaking, spent entire days on
introductory problems meant to be covered in five minutes, and had
incoherent lesson plans among many other failings. Observers found
class attendance was often below 50% and those students in attendance
often sleeping.  Many parents had asked that their children be
transferred out of the class.
The panel's finding:
"While the respondent has displayed incompetence on numerous
occasions, we are convinced he can be an effective teacher.  He has
adequate subject matter knowledge and now knows he must follow the
The teacher was assigned to a new school.
[] In the case of a teacher who refused to take lithium
medication, a panel found that he had committed 42 separate violent
physical and verbal attacks on fellow teachers, school supervisors and
students.  He had repeatedly called fellow teachers "wimp fucks" and
other obscenities and had threatened to "bash their brains in" with a
statue; had publicly called the principal and assistant principal
"shitheads who stand with their hands in their pockets and wear ties";
and told his students that they "had shit in their blood"  and that
he, as their biology teacher, could prove it. The Board of Ed said the
teacher continued to refuse to take his lithium even during the
arbitration process.
The panel's ruling:
"We conclude that the Respondent's behavior, even if unusual and
bizarre, should not prevent his return to teaching duties. It is clear
that these were isolated incidents."
The panel ordered the teacher to pay a fine. He is now
teaching in a High School in Queens.
Concerning these cases and others like them, Stein says the dismissal
guillotine does not fall fast or often enough.
The UFT's Weingarten says, "We are simply better at defending
teachers than the Board is at prosecuting them. Is that the Union's
fault?  That's the least we owe our members."...
~ end quote ~