Being an ineffective teacher in the Clark County School District pays off — literally. Two weeks ago, a federal judge ordered the district to reinstate, with back pay, teachers fired in 2014 for poor performance.
Many studies show that teacher quality is the most important school-controlled factor in boosting student achievement. A highly effective teacher can impart 18 months worth of material in a single year. Students with an ineffective teacher, however, learn only half a year’s worth of material during the school year. Protections put in place by collective bargaining, however, make it almost impossible to fire ineffective teachers. That leads to — what the movie “Waiting for Superman” aptly described as — the “dance of the lemons.” Principals send their crummy teachers to other schools and receive back another school’s “lemons.” Unsurprisingly, throwing more money into a system that is broken won’t improve education.
In 2011, Nevada legislators set out to fix this problem. Post-probationary teachers — in other words, those who enjoy tenure — who received an unsatisfactory rating two years in a row, would become probationary teachers. If they earned an unsatisfactory rating at the end of the third year, the district could let them go.
Compare this with Nevada’s private-sector workers, who are at-will employees. That means their employer can fired them at any time.
The legislative reform was a step forward. Keep in mind that the current teacher evaluation system is a farce. During the 2015-16 school year, only 55 of the state’s 20,785 teachers were deemed “ineffective.” Imagine how bad an educator must perform to earn the lowest designation.
Nevertheless, the teacher unions set out to undermine the reform. In 2014, the district let go of 15 teachers after three years of poor performance. The teachers and their union sued to protect classroom educators who were potentially causing lasting harm to their students. Think about that the next time you hear teacher union officials claim to care about “the children” and increasing student achievement.
Last week, a federal judge ruled district officials had improperly fired the teachers because they didn’t give them adequate notice — as required under collective bargaining statutes — that they had lost their post-probationary status. The judge ordered the district to reinstate the educators — as tenured employees — with back pay and benefits.
Public schools exist to help children learn. That mission is undercut when the administrative hoops imposed by collective bargaining guarantee incompetent adults lifetime employment.
It doesn’t have to be this way. State lawmakers should revisit collective bargaining statutes to make it easier for districts to ensure that each child has an effective teacher.