A reader writes:

My wife is a vice principal at a charter school in Harlem that does not have unionized teachers.  The result is that they can fire teachers in about three weeks if they choose - and they do choose.  She has fired three teachers this year, and will probably fire at least one more.  Two of those were clearly under-performing, not cutting it in a school that has very high expectations for all involved.  The other was marginal, and my wife didn't agree with the dismissal.  But the principal didn't like the woman, and unfortunately that was enough to push her out.

One other thing I struggle with is why there are different unions for teachers and administrators.

They are all educators!  It prevents principals and assistant principals in the dept of ed schools from teaching kids, and allows for the DoE to play the two unions off against each other (in my opinion).  In England, where my wife is from, the headmasters often still teach one class per week. What better way to keep them in tune with the kids and teachers?

Maybe the answer is a new type of educators union, willing to be more flexible and decentralized, but still with some collective negotiation power to prevent the worst excesses of management.

Another writes:

What about the states that do not have unionised teachers? I teach in Georgia. While most districts here do implement some kind of seniority preference, we don't have teacher tenure. The best we can do is "due process firing" where the someone at the district level has to hear both sides of the story before the employee is terminated.

When money got tight in 2009 (because of low 2008 revenues), seniority suddenly didn't matter anymore. Large counties around Atlanta laid off hundreds of teachers last year because of budget cuts. It may happen again this year. You had better believe that Principals used the opportunity to "clean house". These weren't bad teachers. These were teachers the administrations didn't like. Former Teachers of the Year fired by new administrations because the teachers didn't agree with new school policies. There were also many first and second year teachers let go. Some schools booted their Teach for America teachers just so they could say they didn't fire a single accredited teacher.

There is no magic bullet. Simply being able to fire teachers neither ensures bad ones will be fired nor that schools will improve. I guess it balances budgets, though.


One of the things I have always respected about you and your work is that you don't paint with a broad brush. Yet you pull what must be the most caricatured, thoughtless portrayals of principals out of your email inbox in response to the linked story. I have no problem with the link - it's connected, and let's face it; there are bad principals just like there are bad bloggers, cops, chefs, politicians and electricians.

I am a public school principal, and my colleagues and I in the district of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts work tirelessly to support students, families, and teachers. I work 60 hours in a slow week and most every minute of it I am asking myself how I can do better by my kids and my community. I am pursuing my doctoral degree, not because I'm interested in "self-protecting careerism", but so that I can continue my own growth and better serve my community.

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