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Commentary By Marcus A. Winters

Firing Bad Apples

Economics, Education, Cities, Cities Finance, Pre K-12, New York City

How unions stymie progress

In a series of articles last week, The Post chronicled how New York's taxpayers continue to pay for the salaries and benefits of several bad — and sometimes downright dangerous — teachers for doing nothing all day. The school system pays these teachers not to teach because it lacks the tools necessary to fire them.

The new evaluation system being debated could change that. Unless, that is, the unions succeed in their efforts to render it meaningless.

A deep flaw of the 2010 state law mandating new evaluations for public-school teachers is that it requires many of the most important aspects to be collectively bargained with the unions — whose interest in unconditionally protecting even their incompetent members makes it impossible for them to agree to any rigorous evaluation system, especially one with teeth.

The unions are pushing to neuter the new system by burying it under an appeals process not unlike the one that now protects even dangerous teachers.

Yes, teachers should be able to appeal assessments based on faulty process. But the unions also want a right of appeal simply when a teacher disagrees with the substance of a properly conducted evaluation. Since all teachers would appeal an ineffective rating — why not? — the time-consuming, hoop-filled process would keep it far too difficult to accurately label bad teachers.

The unions also want to limit the weight given to the evaluation system when determining whether to fire a teacher. They'd make an incompetent rating on the evaluation system only one bit of evidence that the teacher should be removed, putting the burden on the schools chancellor to prove that he or she should be terminated.

But students' interests should come first. It should be automatic for schools to remove teachers found to be incompetent, unless the teacher can provide sufficient reason that he or she should stay.

The unions also claim that a system that uses student test scores to evaluate teachers, as the new system would, is so flawed that we need to give teachers numerous chances to challenge their rating. But their arguments behind that claim are misleading.

Take the complaint that using test scores puts teachers of difficult-to-educate students at an insurmountable disadvantage relative to their peers. In fact, the analysis would account statistically for the type of students that a teacher instructs — that's how it's done in areas that have adopted the reform. More important, the analysis focuses on the gains that a teacher's students make during the school year, not just their overall score. These approaches allow us to evaluate all teachers on a level playing field.

Another common objection is that it's wrong to use a single standardized test each year to evaluate a teacher's performance. But this is a straw man: No one wants to use test scores that way.

Everyone agrees that test scores don't tell us everything we want to know about a teacher's performance. That's why the scores would make up less than half of a teacher's evaluation under the new system. Nonetheless, research shows that careful analysis of a teacher's contribution to student test scores is the most accurate predictor of a teacher's future performance.

The unions have shown themselves to be incapable of bargaining a useful evaluation system in good faith. What's worst, because the negotiation process is now open ended, they are able to stall the process. Gov. Cuomo should speed up the process by setting up a backstop date at which negotiations must be completed.

Teachers are the most important factor in a school for driving student achievement. We can dramatically improve public schools by ensuring that all students are taught by a high-quality teacher. To do that, though, public schools need the ability to remove their worst teachers without jumping through the endless hoops that the unions would put along the way.

This piece originally appeared in New York Post

This piece originally appeared in New York Post