Dance of the Tenured Lemons

Kyle Olson

3/10/2011 12:01:00 AM - Kyle Olson

Teacher tenure is considered holy gospel in most of America’s public schools.

But this policy does nothing for children, and tends to protect teachers who don’t necessarily deserve job security. Why is it we never hear stories about tenure protecting “good” teachers instead of helping “bad” ones?

One bad teacher was former band instructor-turned convict Matt Lang, who is now sitting in an Illinois state penitentiary. Lang was convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old student from Alton (Illinois) High School. But the mother of his victim is suing the nearby O’Fallon school district, where Lang previously worked, claiming administrators and union officials conspired to hide his previous relationship with an underage student.

And there was such a relationship. Lang ended up marrying a former student from O’Fallon High School, and it’s a legally accepted fact that he had sex with her while she was a student.

O’Fallon administrators and union officials deny knowledge of that sexual relationship. But for one reason or another, they conspired to hide the reasons for Lang’s forced resignation. The lawsuit claims their conspiracy allowed Alton school officials to unwittingly hire Lang.

The O’Fallon union authored a memo, which you can read here, which instructed O’Fallon administrators how to react to inquiries from districts thinking about hiring Lang. It read in part:

School districts may contact (O’Fallon) for a recommendation on the performance of Matt Lang. The (union) would like the administration to provide a favorable recommendation on his behalf.

That’s exactly what O’Fallon administrators did, and he landed the job at Alton. Read more details in Education Action Group’s latest Ed Reform RADAR newsletter.

This smells a lot like a case of the “Dance of the Lemons,” a term which refers to school administrators quietly moving troubled teachers out the door with a letter of recommendation and sometimes money, because tenure laws make it too expensive to fire them.

They essentially put the trash out on the curb, spray it with a bit of perfume and wait for an unsuspecting district to come along and pick it up.

In no other sector of society can an employee be accused of a very serious crime, only to be given a payoff and positive recommendation. The sickening part is that it involves children and is a direct result of teacher tenure.

If school leaders had more flexibility, the dance of the lemons would end at the unemployment line or prison, not in other school districts.

But changing tenure laws requires state leaders who are willing to stand up to teachers unions. Do they have the courage, or will they continue to subject students to a small minority of unfit, downright dangerous teachers?