OPINION: Protecting bad teachers job No. 1 for NSEA

SUBMITTED BY NPRI

By Victor Joecks

Last month, the Nevada State Education Association voted to not endorse Democratic challenger John Oceguera in his race for Nevada’s 3rd congressional seat against Republican Rep. Joe Heck.

Since endorsing Democrats is usually a formality for the NSEA, the news was surprising. Why didn’t Oceguera receive the endorsement of the hyper-partisan NSEA?

As reported by the Las Vegas Sun, NSEA President Lynn Warne said the reason the association didn’t endorse Oceguera was his support for some minor education-reform bills in the last legislative session, specifically AB 225. The bill allows schools greater leeway to fire poorly performing teachers with post-probationary status — commonly known as tenure — after three consecutive years of poor performance.

While AB 225 represents an improvement over the old system, where 95 percent of teachers received tenure after one year of teaching and became virtually impossible to fire afterward, the new system only allows a bad teacher with tenure to be removed after three years of poor performance.

In other words, a poor teacher would be able to harm the education of 50 to 100 or more students before a school is able to remove him or her for subpar performance. The stakes here are exceptionally high for students, because students with poor teachers learn only half as much as they would with an average teacher and a third as much as they would with an excellent teacher.

To parents, administrators, taxpayers, students and even other teachers, employing the worst performing teachers is a terrible thing. Teachers are there to educate students; students aren’t there to employ teachers.

Except that’s not how Warne, NSEA and teacher unions around the country see it. As revealed by their actions, keeping bad teachers employed is one of their highest priorities, even though keeping bad teachers employed harms your children and the children in your neighborhood.

Now, union bosses never say they want to hurt children, of course. Instead, they claim they want to make sure the process is fair or to protect “due process.” But what they do reveals their priority — not education, but keeping dues-paying, bad teachers in the classroom.

Looking at the history of AB 225 provides some insight. As originally proposed and passed by the full Assembly and the Senate Education Committee, AB 225 provided that a tenured teacher could be placed on probationary status after two years of poor performance and then let go after three years. Even this modest reform, however, was not to “apply if superseded by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement.”

This would allow union bosses to claim during the legislative session that they’re in favor of removing bad teachers from the classroom, but — thanks to the enormous power the unions have under NRS 288 — effectively kill the reform months later during Nevada’s secretive collective bargaining negotiations, when the media and the public are excluded.

An amendment to remove this restriction failed in the Senate Education Committee, when the committee’s four Democrats — Chair Mo Denis, Vice Chair Ruben Kihuen, Valerie Wiener and Sheila Leslie — outvoted the committee’s three Republicans — Barbara Cegavske, Don Gustavson and Greg Brower.

NSEA even proposed an amendment to further weaken AB 225. It would have:

  1. Required unsatisfactory evaluations to be finished and the subject of conferences by Feb. 1
  2. Added an additional arbitration for teachers contesting an unsatisfactory evaluation
  3. Required that post-probationary teachers who continued to perform unsatisfactorily be given “intensive assistance”
  4. Added the reclassification of a post-probationary teacher to the bargaining contract’s definition of a demotion

While the proposals sound innocuous, each would have created significant additional hoops for administrators to jump through. And if administrators missed a single deadline or lost one arbitrator’s decision, that teacher would have returned to the classroom and continued to harm your children.

Fortunately, the Senate Education Committee didn’t even put the NSEA’s amendment up for a vote.

However, only after Gov. Brian Sandoval acquiesced and agreed to a tax increase did AB 225, as part of the budget agreement, get amended to ensure that its provisions could not be superseded by collective bargaining agreements.

In its legislative update, NSEA bemoaned that AB 225 wasn’t neutered, writing that “this amendment also dictates that local bargaining agreements cannot supersede or alter state law and, thus, we cannot bargain anything better when it comes to veteran teachers who become probationary again.” (Emphasis added.)

NSEA bosses’ own words reveal they think it would be “better” to place obstacles in the way of removing poorly performing teachers from the classroom.

NSEA’s attitude is the norm across the country, where teacher unions are fighting tooth and nail to keep the very worst teachers in front of our kids.

Moreover, the union contract provisions that protect bad teachers are also keeping sexually perverse teachers in front of kids or on school district payrolls around the country.

As recently reported by the New York Daily News, in New York, 16 teachers, found by administrators to have made sexually abusive statements or performed sexually abusive actions with students, were returned to working with children after arbitrators reduced their punishments:

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said education officials could have taken additional steps to fire the teachers singled out by Walcott.

“If the Department of Education believes that the hearing officer has made an egregious error, it can appeal the arbitration decision to the state courts,” said Mulgrew.

But Education officials said that the legal standard for overturning an arbitrator’s decision is very difficult to meet — and none of the cases would have met that standard. …

And two of the 16 teachers identified by Walcott have been put on desk duty after new allegations against them surfaced.

Edward Cascio, formerly a gym teacher at Brooklyn Tech High School, was accused of asking a male student to send him naked cell phone pictures of his ex-girlfriend. An arbitrator determined that Cascio didn’t ask for the naughty pictures but instead replied “yeah, sure” when they were offered.

Former PS 366 music teacher Michael Dalton was accused of putting his groin against a student, having a child on his lap and kissing another on the forehead. The arbitrator found firing wasn’t necessary because these were “isolated occurrences” and Dalton could change his conduct.

Officials would not provide details about the new charges against the pair.

In Los Angeles, where the Los Angeles Times notes that “firing teachers can be a costly and tortuous task,” the school district paid a teacher $40,000 to drop his challenge to being fired. The teacher was fired — and do not read this if you have a queasy stomach — after photos surfaced of him appearing to spoon-feed his semen to blindfolded children.

The district settled with the alleged pervert, however, because officials weren’t certain they would win on appeal.

In the aftermath of the scandal, the Los Angeles Times brought to light that under the union contract:

[A]lleged misconduct that does not result in discipline is removed from personnel files after four years. The provision dates to the early 1990s when the L.A. Unified School District agreed to it in exchange for teachers taking a 10% pay cut.”

The policy has limited L.A. Unified’s ability to deal with misconduct allegations against teachers and weed out potential problem instructors. The most explosive allegations involved former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to 23 counts of lewd conduct for allegedly photographing students blindfolded, gagged and being spoon-fed his semen.

Several earlier investigations and complaints about his conduct — none of which ever resulted in criminal charges or discipline — were not in his record.

In their opposition to firing bad teachers, NSEA officials like to claim they’re only trying to “protect due process rights.” In reality, they and union officials around the country want a “process” so byzantine that it’s impossible to fire even sexual perverts, let alone ineffective teachers.

For the sake of your children and every child you know, this must end.

We must fire bad teachers.

Victor Joecks is communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute. For more visit http://npri.org.

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