Firing the worst teachers

By The  LA Times editorial board

Finally, there’s legislation that proposes reasonable solutions to the tortuous procedure for firing the worst teachers in California. The teachers who routinely screen movies instead of giving instruction, who denigrate their students, ignore them, harass them or even physically abuse them — yet who can appeal the firing process for years, during which the schools still must pay their salaries.

Several reform-oriented bills went overboard to fix this. Under one, teachers suspected of abusive behavior would have had no avenue to appeal their dismissal. The new bill, authored by Assemblywoman Judy Buchanan (D-Alamo), makes more sense. It would save districts money and be fairer to both teachers and students.

AB 375 would let schools send teachers a notice of intent to fire at any time during the school year — unlike current rules, which prohibit it during one-third of the year. More important, it would streamline procedures that typically delay appeals and would require cases to be decided within seven months.

Under the existing system, when teachers fight an attempt to fire them, the matter goes to a review panel made up of an administrative law judge and two teachers, one picked by the union and one by the school district. But the district-chosen teacher must meet a list of criteria, such as having worked in the same discipline as the fired teacher for at least five of the past 10 years. Considering how many teachers leave before they’ve even been in the classroom for five years, finding such a teacher to sit on the panel can be time-consuming; in addition, the union then can challenge whether that teacher is qualified, creating long delays. In the end, administrators don’t bother trying to fire teachers except in the strongest and most egregious cases, and they rarely get rid of a teacher solely because he or she can’t teach. AB 375 would loosen the criteria for picking that second teacher on the panel and would limit challenges, among other changes.

There are still other changes that should be made to the process by which teachers are fired. For instance, Buchanan’s bill would have better balanced the makeup of the review panel, by placing an administrator on it, or a parent. Their viewpoints deserve to be heard too. But politically, gaining the support of the powerful California Teachers Assn. was vital to moving the bill forward;

AB 375 has that support, and last week passed the Assembly Education Committee. It could become one of the state’s most important and overdue education reforms in more than a decade.

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