The Chicago Tribune has put together a great, if depressing, graphic showing all the steps required to fire a tenured but ineffective teacher in the Windy City. The short version? It takes 2-5 years, and as many as 27 stepswhich, according to the Tribune, is why many school principals don’t even try.
A reader in San Francisco shares a similar experience:
My wife is the principal of an urban public school. She actually succeeded in getting one particularly bad apple to resign, finally, after a dedicated two-year effort that began immediately after she took over this particular school from her predecessor. I have grey hairs because of that ordeal (and it’s not even my job!). My wife literally feared for her life.
The real tell, though, is that this teacher was so bad for so long that everyone in the district, right up to the Superintendent, rolled their eyes at the mere mention of his name. He "taught" in the district for 16 years. He bounced from one school site to the next, successfully avoiding any accountability for his criminal incompetence until my wife became his boss.
Here is the process: She rated him “unsatisfactory” for three consecutive classroom evaluations. This was the first prerequisite to any escalation of his case, and no small feat considering principals are only allowed to perform evaluations of tenured teachers every other year, cannot schedule more than one evaluation per teacher per 45-day period, must schedule them well ahead of time and must meet with the teacher (and their union rep if they so choose) before and after each scheduled evaluation to review the evaluation criteria, craft an improvement plan and provide support.
After three consecutive “unsats” the case can be escalated to a union-sponsored review panel of twelve people. Panel members include the head of the local teacher’s union and at least six other union members. They typically assign a “coach” to assist the bad teacher twice per week (at public expense) with lesson planning and classroom instruction. The coach, who is a member of the same union and is only at the school for two half-days per week, must file monthly progress reports back to the panel for six months (and may not consult with, or consider evidence provided by, the principal who is on-site every day).
At any time the teacher may file “grievances” against the principal via the union, to which the principal must respond in writing and the district staff must investigate. Any of these may derail the entire process. Otherwise, if after six months the coach actually testifies to the panel that, yes, this teacher is really bad AND shows no sign of improving even with all the extra support, ONLY THEN will the panel take any action against the teacher.
In the most egregious cases, after deliberating for some additional months (the panel only meets every so often and has dozens of cases to review each time), the panel may take the dramatic step of serving the teacher with a “90-day notice.” This notice is actually a three-foot-tall stack (I’m not exaggerating) of all the documentation and evidence that has been collected by the principal, the union and the district’s lawyers during the development of the case. The teacher then has 90 days to review the documentation and file protests if he/she feels any of the documents are incorrect or might support a legal claim against the principal or the district for harassment or discrimination. Only if no defensible protest can be mounted will the teacher, after 90 days be faced with the choice to either resign or face termination proceedings.
All told, this process takes at least 18 months of intensive effort by the principal and the district’s legal staff. The legal fees alone exceed $20,000. With all the other demands of the job, there is no way one principal can pursue more than one bad teacher at a time. So if your school has five bad teachers, it will take eight years to rid the school of them even if every new teacher you hire (or who is assigned to your school by the district during that time) is great.