Children lose when unions fight to keep poor performers in the classroom

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

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

The reason the association didn't endorse Oceguera was his support for some minor education-reform bills in the past legislative session, specifically Assembly Bill 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.

The bill is actually an improvement over the old system, under which 95 percent of teachers received tenure after one year of teaching and became virtually impossible to fire afterwards. But even with the change, a poor teacher is still 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 the 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 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 AB225 provides some insight. As originally proposed and passed by the full Assembly and the Senate Education Committee, AB225 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 Even this modest reform, however, was not to "apply if superseded by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement."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 allowed union bosses to claim during the legislative session that they were in favor of removing bad teachers from the classroom, but - thanks to the enormous power the unions have under state statutes - to effectively kill the reform months later during Nevada's secretive collective bargaining negotiations, when the media and the public are excluded.

After Gov. Brian Sandoval acquiesced and agreed to a tax increase as part of the budget agreement, however, the bill was amended to ensure that its provisions could not be superseded by collective bargaining agreements.

In its legislative update, NSEA bemoaned that AB225 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."

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.

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

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