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Editorial: The difficulty of firing bad teachers

Glen Cove High School in Glen Cove. (April

Glen Cove High School in Glen Cove. (April 6, 2013) Credit: Ian J. Stark

Just what does a tenured teacher in New York have to do these days to get fired? In the wake of a scandal that rocked the Glen Cove School District, we know this much: Helping students cheat on state tests hasn't been enough to cost educators their jobs.

Two administrators and six teachers, we learned recently, were fined a total of $144,522 in 2013 in connection with two separate scandals in 2012. In one case at Glen Cove High School, a student's failing Regents grade was changed to passing. In a far more widespread instance of bad behavior, nearly two dozen teachers helped children on state English and math tests, supplying answers and telling students to rethink wrong responses, according to a district-commissioned investigation.

The high school's principal resigned last year and lost his administrative and teaching certificates, but he's the only educator out of a job, though the investigation continues. In the other eight cases adjudicated so far, two administrators and six teachers paid fines of between $3,118 and $26,750. Four of the eight admitted wrongdoing, while four did not.

Education officials say settling for fines and not pursuing firings for teachers who enable cheating are functions of a dysfunctional system. Teacher tenure and the state laws governing teacher dismissal and the revocation of certifications make going after the offenders' jobs not worth the trouble.

The New York State School Boards Association has said the average disciplinary proceeding at this level takes 830 days and costs $313,000. The process is so drawn out and protective of educators that it often leads to settlements in cases where firings are more appropriate.

To point out that this is a broken system that hurts schools and students is not an attack on teachers. It is not an attack on education. It is an attack on a system that allows dishonest educators to keep their jobs. This is a part of the system that needs to be attacked until it is changed.