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Older Teachers Are Vulnerable to Firing

The recent experience of two veteran educators in higher education is a harbinger of what I believe will eventually be repeated in K-12 ("Claims of Age Bias Rise, but Standards of Proof Are High," The New York Times, Mar. 19).  The facts are disturbing.  The untenured teachers called academic program specialists at Ohio State University, who had been teaching undergraduate and graduate students from other countries to master speaking, reading and writing English for close to three decades, were pressured to retire by their new boss.  

Although he had never observed their instruction, their ratings were downgraded.  After appealing their case to their higher-ups and getting no support, they filed a lawsuit under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.  Ohio State claims that its employees are not covered by federal discrimination law.  What makes their burden so onerous is that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 held that plaintiffs must prove that age was the motivating factor in demoting or firing an older worker.  Without a smoking gun, however, it will be an uphill battle.

If this is the situation in higher education, which is struggling to cut costs, why won't the same abuse happen in K-12, which is facing a similar problem?  Public schools are ripe targets because so many have teachers at the top of their salary schedules.  Districts too often view them as deadwood.  As long as tenure is in place, these teachers have some protection against outright dismissal (but not against harassment).  But if the Vergara v. State of California decision is upheld on appeal, and tenure is virtually abolished, why won't older teachers find themselves equally vulnerable?   It's a bleak picture.

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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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