Mona Charen
A recent weeknight found me among a group of about a dozen unhappy parents meeting with the principal of our kids' high school. The issue: An incompetent teacher who we had been promised would not be returning to the school had shown up unexpectedly, and an administrator had told the students that he might indeed be returning in September.

Parents expressed dismay and frustration. The principal was guarded. There was much he could not say for legal reasons, he explained. In the course of a long and often tense discussion, a number of the parents made the point that if an employee in the private sector had engaged in the behavior that this teacher had, he would be gone in a flash. But when it comes to teachers -- those critical figures in our children's lives -- it requires a minimum of three years to remove someone ... if you're lucky.

John Stossel, writing in Reason magazine, detailed the case of a New York teacher who sent sexually explicit emails to a 16-year-old student. It took six years and plenty of expensive litigation to fire him, though the school had possession of the emails, and the teacher admitted sending them.

As Stossel observes, faced with the bureaucratic maze they must navigate to fire a bad teacher, most principals don't even try. They attempt to sucker another school into taking the incompetent ("the dance of the lemons") or they put the bad teachers in "pretend work" jobs, where they continue, of course, to collect full salaries and benefits. Between 2005 and 2008, Newsweek reported, the public school systems of Chicago and Akron, Ohio, fired the same percentage of teachers: .01 percent. The Denver and Toledo systems didn't fire any.

Confronting such a Kafkaesque system (Bill Bennett dubbed it "the blob") most parents shrink away feeling deflated and helpless.

Such is union power.

No one mentioned it, but as we were gnashing our teeth about the difficulty of removing bad teachers from the public school system, the Virginia legislature was voting on a measure that would have brought decisive change to our system -- the elimination of teacher tenure.

Virginia doesn't call its system of job security "tenure," but after just three years of teaching, a teacher gets a "continuing contract," which amounts to the same thing. By contrast, university professors typically don't get tenure until they've been on the job for seven years. And even then, only a minority gets it. Many college instructors are not tenured faculty.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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