Monday, January 30, 2006

A problem with public schools - not firing the bad teachers

In the last two weeks I've written a couple posts about scary teachers. There was the teacher who gave his freshman students an assignment to research internet porn. There was a Spanish high school teacher who showed an R-rated movie to his class. And another teacher forced a 17-year-old student to sit on the floor while taking a test, because the student was wearing a Denver Bronco jersey.

In one of these posts I made a comment about having yet another scary teacher story and got the following comment:

"So, help me with something.

It's certainly easy to search the media for stories of teachers that are morons and use them to justify why to homeschool kids.

We could do the same to homeschools, though. Do you think that every idiot that homeschools with subpar content knowledge and awful materials means you shouldn't be able to homeschool?


There is a big difference in the number of scary teachers and scary homeschool parents. For the last several months I have been using Google News Alerts to find articles about teachers with this search pattern "teacher guilty" (hat tip: HE&OS) and I get several articles every day. Not all of them are bad or crazy teacher stories, but many of them are. On the other hand the number of parents who are really home school and are scary seem to pop up around once a month. I use several search patterns to look for home news about homeschoolers, and I follow several homeschooling news blogs. There are around two million public school teachers, and around one million parents who home school.

In any discussion about bad or crazy teachers in public schools I want to first acknowledge that most teachers are wonderful people. It is a hard job to be a public school teacher. Many of them are sacrificing other opportunities to try and help the next generation. Both my wife and I have relatives who are teachers.

The bigger issue for me is that the public school system does a very poor job of policing their teachers. The bad and crazy teacher stories wouldn't be such a big deal if there were more instances of these crazy teachers being fired, or sometimes even being sent to jail. But in both my personal experience, and from reading the news, it seems many teachers who do things clearly lacking in judgment suffer little consequences and continue to teach.

This is the real issue. It is not that there are some teachers who have done something objectionable. When you get a large group of people there were often be a few who do stupid things. The problem is when teachers do harmful things to children they should no longer be teachers. But as John Stossel recently reported it is very hard to fire teachers. In the 20/20 report he showed a multi-page flowchart on how to get rid of a bad teacher. Things like this make it hard to get rid of bad teachers. This is what is really crazy.

Consider a similar situation. You want to do some traveling. You are considering visiting a number of countries. Country A has a number of interesting sites and many of your friends have enjoyed vacations there, but over the last twenty or thirty years the crime rate has been climbing. After some investigation you find that the police are not doing a good job of punishing criminals after the criminals are apprehended. You are also considering Country B, which also has a number of tourist sites and a few of your friends greatly enjoyed their time there, and there is little crime. Most of us would go to visit country B.

You could run the same experiment in choosing a town to live in. Town A has high crime, town B has low crime. All other things being relatively equal, which town would you want to live in?

The sad thing about the stories of bad or crazy teachers is not that bad or crazy teachers exist. The really sad thing is that once the public school system knows about these kinds of teachers it does such a poor job of protecting the children from the teachers.


Beckie Russell said...

Many of the incidents that make the news regarding public school teachers are instances of criminal behavior, and admittedly, these instances are more frequent among public school teachers than among homeschoolers. These incidents are almost always punished under criminal law. However, if we examine the settings in which the two types of teachers exist, it will become apparent that the opportunity to behave criminally is more prevalent with public school teachers (who teach, at the high school level, between 100 and 150 students each day) than with homeschoolers (who teach their own children, with whom they have a personal bond). This is not to excuse the behavior in either case, but to explain the apparant discrepancy in frequency.

The other incidents you refer to as "lacking in judgement" are often not criminal (case in point: the sitting-on-the-floor-to-take-a-test" issue) and therefor not able to be prosecuted. Such incidents in a homeschooling situation would not be considered as "lacking in judgement" because of the informality of the homeschool setting. It is still inadvisable to have any child sit on the floor, regardless of where that floor is, to take a test, but the "horror" of the situation is mitigated by the location of the floor.

I am sure that many a homeschooler has made an ill-advised decision in the course of homeschooling. These people are not denied the right to homeschool their children for the lapse in judgement. Neither should a public school teacher lose the right to teach for such an "offense".

Tenure laws are possibly as treacherous as many claim, however, education is a volatile field and it is hard to teach well if you are forever worried that you will be fired for teaching something "not approved in the curriculum." How can you present differing opinions on controversial topics if you are worried that you might offend your boss?

The best antidote to public school woes is the active participation of parents in their children's education. This does not require homeschooling, although that certainly counts as active participation, but it does require more than attending the next soccer game or asking if Johnny did his homework. It requires getting to know the teachers and the course requirements and how your child behaves in school. It requires active participation in the academics as well as the social aspects of school.

Henry Cate said...

Becky, thank you for your comment.


"The best antidote to public school woes is the active participation of parents in their children's education."

To an extent I agree. But my wife and I have a number of friends who have tried to get involved, but the parents were either ignored, or told to go away. Public schools have little real incentive to take direction from parents.

KoreeBelle said...

I am 100% behind Becky. While I understand some of the reasoning for homeschooling, I hesitate to firmly back it. As I teenager, I enjoyed activities such as the marching band and of course prom.

The purpose of teachers being difficult to fire is job protection. Imagine going to work everyday and one wrong move and you're out the door. Teachers have master's degrees and rankings that give them credentials and preparation to face their classroom daily (Have any parents been trained in the appropriate methods in which to teach math or reading? Probably not. And to dismiss it with oh there is software for that is to a point, offensive to teachers nationwide.)

Regarding the parents who were supposedly dismissed, I am curious what was the situation. As an educator, I cannot imagine a parent approaching me regarding their child and the school pushing them back out the door. We welcome parents' active participation in their child's education.

Additionally, since a large majority of homeschool parents tend to do so for religious purposes I cannot imagine how they can learn to embrace diversity. I fear that they are shown the opposite. Also, I hope that people will no longer use the role of teacher as scapegoat and instead back our schools by supporting teachers. Send your children to public school and embrace the system and politicians who support teachers.

Henry Cate said...

"Imagine going to work everyday and one wrong move and you're out the door."

This is a Straw man. No one argues for this.

The truth is that it is much easier to fire someone in private industry than in public schools.

If I stop performing at work my company will try to work with me for a couple days to maybe a couple weeks, but if I don't make any improvement then I will be fired. From start to finish I could be out the door in a week to a month.

In contrast it can take a year or more to fire a bad teacher.

"Have any parents been trained in the appropriate methods in which to teach math or reading?"

I find this argument fascinating. That some how parents who have gone through public schools from K to 12, and often graduated from college, are not able to teach their own children how to read or add numbers.

My daughters have never been to a public school. My oldest daughter is now 17 and her SAT and ACT scores are just fine.

I am glad you are in the public school system and trying to make it better. I wish you the best.