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Report: Bad Teachers Often Remediated, Not Removed, Under New York Rules

New York's due process procedures are dominated by a focus on teacher rehabilitation, with the end result that even abusive teachers are often fined or suspended rather than fired, contends an analysis released this morning of more than 150 cases in New York City.

Though it concerns just a tiny fraction of that city's approximately 100,000 teachers, the analysis paints a disturbing picture of teachers returning to the classroom even after hearing officers agreed with the school district that they failed to show up to work for weeks on end, gave poor instruction, or addressed students with racist or threatening language. 

"The effect of this system on children is devestating," author Katharine B. Stevens writes in the analysis. "Thousands of students are systematically subjected to teachers who are teaching incompetently, being verbally and physically abusive, and failing to come to work for days on end, while schools carry out their resource-intensive obligation to rehabiltate those teachers or, ultimately, to prove that rehabilitation just isn't possible." 

The analysis is based on a chapter from Stevens' doctoral dissertation, which is under embargo at Columbia University. It was released by the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank where Stevens is now employed as an early-childhood education research fellow.

As Education Week recently reported, states' due process laws vary widely—and that includes details of the evidentiary standards at work in the hearings. In New York, Stevens argues, the hearings are no longer about determining whether charges of incompetence or misconduct are justified; rather, they hinge on the question of whether there's even a slim chance a teacher can be remediated.

In a random sample of the cases, she cites decision after decision where a hearing officer sustained charges but felt that, depite already-hefty doses of support, the teacher might yet improve.

The phenomenon is the product both of years of case law in which punishments short of firing were handed down, and of changes in the due process rules mandating "progressive discipline" for teachers, the report asserts.

Stevens based her study on an analysis of 208 due process cases in New York City, obtained through an open-records request. Of those 208 cases, 155 dealt with classroom performance. The sample is not representative, because the state would not release the total number of cases opened in that time period. That means cases that settled, or cases where a teacher was cleared of charges, aren't included.

Here's an interactive chart summing up her findings: 

A deeper dive into the data show some interesting patterns. Teachers convicted of sexual misconduct were the most likely to be discharged (86 percent of such cases), but those guilty of excessive absenteeism were much less likely to be (just 7 percent of those cases).

Compare and contrast this with more recent data released by the United Federation of Teachers, in July. That data also showed a fair number of fines being issued for performance convictions. And while many other teachers' cases ended through "terminations, resignations, or retirement," the union didn't separate out numbers for each of those three categories.

In a statement, the UFT called the numbers in Stevens' analysis "outdated." It did not address claims that the standard for dismissal is skewed.

Data from Stevens' analysis have already been cited by plaintiffs in Davids v. New York, a civil lawsuit seeking to overturn New York's teacher due process rules. As such, the analysis could be an important piece of evidence in that trial.

Not coincidentally, Campbell Brown, one of the forces behind that lawsuit, is speaking at the AEI this morning concurrent with the report's release.

And check back at edweek.org for a full write-up soon.

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