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Teachers' Rights and Students' Rights Clash

Reformers have long maintained that unions sacrifice the rights of students to a quality education to the rights of teachers to keep their jobs.  That seems to be the situation in the New York City school system, the nation's largest ("Don't force a dud teacher on my kid," New York Daily News, Aug. 2).

At issue is that principals will no longer be able to select a teacher they want to fill a vacancy.  Instead, they must accept a teacher in the Absent Teacher Reserve. These are teachers who have lost their positions at their schools because of school closures, budget cuts or disciplinary complaints.  I can understand why parents are angry about the change in the policy.  But I think it's important to realize that not all teachers in the ATR are incompetent or unprofessional.

Teachers falling into the latter category have no business being on the payroll.  Unions that fight to keep them there when the evidence is clear lose the respect of all stakeholders.  But there are many teachers who find themselves without a position through no fault of their own.  They should not be lumped together with the others.  Yet that is precisely what is happening.

Exacerbating the situation is that almost all the teachers in the ATR will wind up in schools in low-income neighborhoods.  It's this combination of factors that provides unions with a unique opportunity to demonstrate that they are not hidebound.  

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