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Plea Bargaining in Public Schools

Prosecutors in the criminal justice system have long used plea bargaining as a way of settling cases. But I was surprised to learn that a similar strategy is used by school districts ("NYC erases the 'unsatisfactory' ratings of lousy teachers - if they agree to quit," New York Post, Jan. 6).

The way the process works is that teachers who receive "U" ratings for two consecutive years, which constitute grounds for dismissal, receive instead an "S" - provided they agree to quit or resign. The plan is rationalized by New York City's Department of Education as a way of saving time and money, and protecting students from incompetent teachers.

The approach is certainly expedient, but it is not ethical because it places the burden on future employers. I realize that they have the responsibility to check on the backgrounds of teachers they are considering hiring. However, how can they be expected to arrive at a sound conclusion if records have been doctored? If teaching is ever going to be considered a true profession, it has to act like one.

The Los Angeles Unified School District for many years engaged in what was known as the dance of the lemons. Problem teachers were transferred from one school to another. If they didn't improve in a new setting, they were placed in rubber rooms, where they continued to receive full salary and benefits. More reasonable dismissal procedures are under consideration in Sacramento ("The ABCs of firing a teacher," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20, 2012). Whatever the outcome, whitewashing the performance ratings of teachers undermines taxpayer confidence in public schools at a time when it is needed the most.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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