By ELISSA GOOTMAN
The New York Times
The Bloomberg administration is beginning a drive to remove unsatisfactory teachers, hiring new teams of lawyers and consultants who will help principals build cases against tenured teachers who they believe are not up to the job. It is also urging principals to get rid of sub-par novices before they earn tenure.
At the center of the effort is a new Teacher Performance Unit of five lawyers, headed by a former prosecutor fresh from convicting a former private school principal who had a sexual relationship with a student.
A separate team of five consultants, including former principals, will work with principals to improve struggling teachersâ€™ performance. In cases where the teachers fail to get better, the consultants will help amass the documentation necessary to oust them.
The plans, at a cost of $1 million a year, are described in a memo and an accompanying letter to principals from Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein. In the letter, he urged principals to help teachers improve but added, â€œWhen action must be taken, the disciplinary system for tenured teachers is so time-consuming and burdensome that what is already a stressful task becomes so onerous that relatively few principals are willing to tackle it. As a result, in a typical year only about one-hundredth of 1 percent of tenured teachers are removed for ineffective performance.
â€œThis issue simply must be tackled,â€ he wrote.
In the memo, Dan Weisberg, the Education Departmentâ€™s chief executive for labor policy and implementation, wrote that the Teacher Performance Unit â€œrepresents a significant infusion of resources that will ensure we have the capacity to seek the removal of all ineffective tenured teachers who, in spite of receiving the time and support sufficient to allow them to substantially improve, wonâ€™t or canâ€™t do it.â€
The unit, Mr. Weisberg wrote, â€œwill also allow us to seek discipline where appropriate in a wider range of cases than before.â€ The unit is being run by Florence Chapin, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the cityâ€™s teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, called the lawyers a â€œteacher gotcha unitâ€ and said she found it â€œdisgustingâ€ that the Education Department would issue such a memo after the release of new school report cards that bluntly grade schools A through F.
â€œWeâ€™ve always been concerned that the first thing that would happen after somebody put out progress reports would be principals would go after teachers,â€ Ms. Weingarten said. â€œBasically, itâ€™s signaling to principals that rather than working to support teachers, the school system is going to give you a way to try to get rid of teachers.â€
New York City has roughly 80,000 public school teachers, and once they receive tenure it is notoriously difficult to remove them, because of the union contract and state labor law, which guards the rights of tenured public employees with an elaborate process of hearings and appeals.
Only about 10 to 15 tenured teachers a year leave the system after being charged with incompetence. Other teachers are removed for outright misconduct.