Resignations, review boards and gotcha units: It's hard out there for a teacher

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Speaking of teacher attrition, New York City's teacher union, the UFT, is claiming that teacher resignations there have nearly doubled in five years. In response, the NYC Education Department claims that the numbers are bogus and a "media stunt." It would seem the UFT is not happy resting on its laurels, after having trounced Klein et al. in a negotiation that won them an incredibly sweet pension deal in exchange for an unworkable performance pay plan.

Klein might have considered responding to the union numbers with a media stunt of his own. He should have claimed that the district has just been doing a better job of encouraging bad teachers to resign. That's much the approach of the Toledo teachers union, in boasting about what it claims is a relatively high attrition rate of first-year teachers who get bad marks from its union-led peer review board. The clear majority of teachers who leave Toledo and who are counted as evidence of that board's high standards are teachers who resign, not who are actually terminated. While a resignation is always preferable to a nasty dismissal, we only have the union's word for it that these resignations were due to the fact that teachers were reading the writing on the wall. In fact, the data coming out of Toledo are so old--the program doesn't provide any data past 1998 on its website--and there is no independent evaluation of success. Climbing on the peer review bandwagon is perhaps not all that prudent.

But that doesn't stop author Richard Kahlenberg, who was wryly accused by Eduwonk of "channeling Al Shanker," the much admired deceased president of the AFT and subject of Kahlenberg's recent book. In a Washington Post op-ed this month, Kahlenberg criticizes new DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee's intention to obtain the authority to fire teachers, urging her to instead adopt a Toledo-like program. However, even Kahlenberg admits though that DC has more than its fair share of teachers "seen as lacking."

Which brings us back to New York with its announcement from Joel Klein that he has hired a team of lawyers and consultants to help principals build cases against teachers that they'd like to dismiss. UFT President Randi Weingarten called the effort "disgusting" and labeled the group a "teacher gotcha unit," The UFT lead a candlelight vigil this week to protest the district's tactics, but a new parody website, shows there's at least some people out there with a sense of humor about the state of the debate.

Furthermore, Klein's efforts to get principals to treat the decision to award tenure more seriously seems to be paying off. Since last March, 66 probationary teachers (1.3 percent of those eligible) have been denied tenure compared to the previous school year when only 25 teachers (.5 percent) were denied the status. More principals are delaying the decision on teachers, extending the probationary period for 115 teachers, up from 30 the previous year.