From Dallas, TX:

"Bad teachers get push toward door/
Principals rely on unappealing duties to drive teachers out"

By SCOTT PARKS/The Dallas Morning News
February 3, 2002
- With rebuttals

School principals can recite the bloodless bureaucratic procedures and paperwork for evaluating, disciplining and firing bad teachers.

In candid moments, they also can share stories about the practical methods they use to get rid of bad teachers. You won't find these stories in a college textbook. "It may not be nice, but it'll be legal," said Robert Ward, principal of Madison High School in Dallas. Some principals use ostracism. Others put out-of-favor teachers on hallway duty or make them serve on marginal committees that meet after school. Others take away a teacher's permanent classroom. Principals have never felt more pressure to increase student test scores, and everyone knows that the single biggest factor is teacher quality.

The vast majority of their teachers are hard-working, committed and competent, principals say. But an unknown number stifle learning. The extreme measures are saved for them. "Sometimes you just have to humiliate them out the door," said one principal, who asked not to be associated with that comment. Teachers and their union representatives say principalsoften target teachers for personal reasons. Maybe the teacher stands up to disagree with the principal at faculty meetings. Or the teacher is politically the polar opposite of the principal.

Education experts say bad teachers share one or more of the following traits: disorganized, mean to children, unwilling to team up with colleagues, a shrinking violet incapable of maintaining classroom order. Some are just burned out.

In all cases, their students suffer.

Classroom research Dr. Robert Mendro, assistant superintendent for research and evaluation at Dallas public schools, has developed "Classroom Effectiveness Indices" on
6,000 Dallas Independent School District teachers. His research, which is based on their pupils' standardized test results, indicates that 30 percent to 40 percent of those teachers could be labeled as "ineffective." Dr. Mendro doesn't mince words about the principal's job. "To date, there is little evidence that principals turn around the performance of teachers," he wrote in April in a memo to DISD personnel. "Rather, effective principals do not tolerate having ineffective teachers on their staffs."

The stakes are high when children land in a teacher's classroom, Dr. Mendro said. Declines in achievement can last up to three years after a student leaves a bad teacher's classroom, he said. "It is a myth that if a kid has an ineffective teacher, you can make up the difference the next year," Dr. Mendro said. Principals say they can't afford to work with low-performing teachers year after year. Documenting a case for termination can take one or two years and can result in costly legal proceedings if the teacher files an appeal. A termination hearing can air out a school's dirty laundry in a courtroom-like setting. "We're not lawyers," said Mr. Ward, the Madison High School principal. "We don't know what an airtight case is." Madison High School, a classic red-brick school that sits on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Dallas, employs 62 teachers. By the principal's estimate, 10 percent are "superstars" and 10 percent are "duds."

Often, principals employ an arsenal of psychological weapons to run off the duds. The relentless pressure causes the targets to retire, transfer to other schools or go into another p profession. Take the experienced high school chemistry teacher who wears his white lab coat to school every day. He lives to pour chemicals from test tubes into beakers. He knows his subject thoroughly, but he's an introvert, cannot relate to children or teach them what he knows. The teacher's students suffer. A high percentage fail. So how does the principal eliminate the problem as quickly as possible?

Here's one solution, according to some principals: The principal assigns the chemistry teacher to another subject in science and then ratchets up the pressure. The teacher is unhappy with the new assignment. The subject is unfamiliar, and he struggles to write good lesson plans. The principal's classroom observations and criticism become relentless. "You make it so uncomfortable for them, they beg to get out," Mr. Ward said.

Firing isn't easy Texas employment law and teacher contract provisions make it difficult for principals to get rid of experienced teachers. They can rarely be fired on the spot unless they become criminals or blatantly derelict. Debbie Crick, principal of Hopkins Academy, an elementary school in Victoria, Texas, once fired a music teacher after an emotional outburst. "Her kids were lined up outside her classroom one morning, and she was nowhere to be found," Ms. Crick recalled. "I found her sound asleep in the nurse's station and woke her up, and she jumped up and started cussing me. She was terminated immediately, but that is rare."

Typically, bad teachers pop onto a principal's radar screen after a rash of complaints from parents, children or fellow teachers. Johnlyn Mitchell, principal at DISD's Franklin Middle School, said teachers who dislike children trouble her the most. "They have the attitude 'You learn the way I teach. I'm gonna tell you this one time, and if you don't get it, tough.' You have kids telling you that she won't answer their questions or that she's calling them stupid. It's teachers who are too punitive with kids."

Ms. Mitchell came to Franklin five years ago and began assessing her staff of 65 teachers. She targeted six for improvement or removal. Like most principals, she pursued her problems on two tracks: providing struggling teachers with the resources to improve (mentors, workshops and counseling) and increasing her presence in their classrooms. "I had a couple of teachers who were mean as junkyard dogs," she recalled. "They had classroom management problems on a daily basis." Four of the targeted teachers transferred to other schools. Two resigned
before they could be fired. Ms. Mitchell acknowledged that some principals will assign problem teachers to "float" through the day. This means the teacher has no permanent
classroom. She floats from classroom to classroom, wheeling her belongings down the hallway on a cart.

"Space problems in some schools make principals float good teachers, but it's also something you can use to send a message," Ms. Mitchell said. Pressure is on Joy Barnhart, principal at W.T. White High School in Dallas, said she gives questionable teachers six weeks to shape up before she writes them off as unsalvageable. "Then it becomes a documentation process," she said. Ms. Barnhart, a principal for 27 years, said she uses concerned parents to exert pressure on bad teachers, encouraging them to visit their teenager's classroom and write down their observations.

"Some teachers can't take the scrutiny," she said. "They don't want to come into conference after conference to hear about parents negating their performance. I always give them the opportunity to resign before I terminate." Mary Smith, a principal at Emerson Elementary School in Midland, Texas, says she has fired only three teachers in 13 years. But others have resigned, she said, because they could not meet her high academic standards. "Sometimes, to ratchet up the pressure, I'll transfer them to an unfamiliar grade level knowing, say, that they see themselves as a sixth-grade teacher and would never want to teach first or second grade." Ms. Smith said the hardest teacher to get rid of is the one who wants to do the minimum and draw a paycheck.

She tells this story: "One was very disorganized. Her classroom was drab, and there was nothing on the walls. She had no tolerance for kids. Often, the lights in her classroom weren't on. She wanted to sit at her desk and read her books while the kids read something else silently. "It took me two years to get rid of her. I got her on her lack of lesson plans and on my personal observations."

Jesse Lopez, president of Classroom Teachers of Dallas, can recite what he calls horror stories of teachers suffering at the hands of vindictive principals. A teacher struggling with discipline gets two or three difficult-to-manage special education students in her class. On top of that, she gets marginal committee assignments that keep her after school on a regular basis. "In one school in North Dallas, the principal has pitted the whole faculty against one teacher," Mr. Lopez said. "She encourages other faculty to make complaints against this one teacher." Mr. Lopez said the pressure to raise student test scores causes principals to go after some teachers who are doing a good job. "It's not a bad teacher," he said. "The principal just has in mind someone he thinks is better, and all he wants to do is find a way to get the teacher out of the building so he can bring in the new one." All of this has created a defensive environment in some schools where teachers feel the principal will target them for no good reason. Mr. Lopez said he has begun to encourage his members to protect themselves against the charges that principals typically make against them. Teachers should photograph their classroom to refute the allegation that they provide a drab, colorless learning environment for their students, Mr. Lopez said.

Teachers should write memos to each other to document the instances in which they cooperate with each other. Principals often allege vague charges that a teacher is not a team player, he said. "There is so much pressure on these principals to perform," he said. "I think all of this is getting worse."

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REBUTTAL: Bad teachers aren't the only ones pushed out


I read with interest the recent Dallas Morning News article "Bad teachers get a push toward the door." You see, I was one of those bad teachers 17 years ago. I like to think I was a better teacher than my principal reported me to be. There are those who agree. Six years later, I rose to the top of the Texas career ladder, and I recently was profiled in Elaine McEwan's book, Ten Traits of Highly Effective Teachers. Even though my principal thought my command of written English merited a mere "1" on a scale of "5," I went on to
write about education issues for Harper's, Reason, Teacher, Principal and Spectrum magazines.

But in 1985, I was a pariah. My principal and I had had a number of disagreements that year, and I was paying the price. As contract renewal time neared, he managed to find his way into the classroom to observe me once or twice each week, and each visit was followed by a severe tongue-lashing. Assistant principals who once had given me decent appraisals suddenly became less kind. Students whom more favored teachers couldn't handle were transferred into my class, and when there were discipline problems, I was blamed. Teachers who had been my friends suddenly shunned me when administrators were present. Of course, I left after that unpleasant year.

Fortunately for me, that school wasn't my first assignment in Texas. My former school district welcomed the prodigal teacher back, and I went on to spend many happy years there. I certainly am not the Lone Ranger. I know a former Air Force officer who holds master's degrees in chemistry and physics but who resigned at midterm after meeting with harassment at the hands of his principal. He was replaced by a teacher who was certified in neither field. I also know a woman who was harassed into resigning after doing a fantastic job of getting barely literate high school students to read and understand novels, something that few of them ever had done before. In the process, she gave too many failing grades, the kiss of death for teachers in most schools. Her principal ordered her to change several grades and apologize to some of her students and their parents. I understand that her replacement has the students reading sample test passages instead of books, and the administration is delighted. Even famed calculus teacher Jaime Escalante, who has nothing but praise for his former principal, Henry Gradillas, had some unpleasant brushes with administrators. Early in Mr. Escalante's tenure at Los Angeles' Garfield High School, an assistant principal had threatened him with dismissal. Janitors were complaining that he was coming in too early and staying too late, and he failed to get administrative permission to raise funds to pay for his students' advanced-placement calculus tests. Fortunately for the students of Garfield, Mr. Escalante had enough support from the community to turn the tables on his tormentor.

Of course, incompetent teachers are removed as well. The difference is that it is easier to get rid of a good teacher than a bad one. Good teachers have skills that make them successful in other jobs. An incompetent teacher, who never could match his $30,000 salary in the private sector, is going to hang on like a pit bull. To get rid of a competent teacher, it is enough to make him a bit uncomfortable.

Jerry Jesness lives in Harlingen.

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REBUTTAL: Teacher abuse flourishes

By Karen Horwitz

I found the articles about methods of pushing out bad teachers meaningful. I agree with Jerry Jesness that far more than bad teachers are pushed out - divergent thinking is eliminated. In his article, Scott Parks implied that the end justifies the means. As in any system with unchecked power, devious procedures considered warranted become available to the unscrupulous. In the end, it is our children that suffer.

I taught fifth grade in the Chicago suburbs. I had excellent evaluations and a strong parent following. The principal began the process of pushing me out using the precise techniques indicated Park's article. I approached the Board asking them to investigate and stop the psychological abuse the administrators were utilizing. Parents presented a petition with sixty names asking the Board to take me seriously so they could maintain teachers of my ability. In less than six months from the time I spoke out about this harassment, I was remediated for making negative statements about the administrators, having called them psychological rapists, a term use by many experts in bullying in the workplace. (A district needs to prove three unsuccessful remediations to successfully terminate a tenured teacher.)

Rather than investigate, I was ordered to see a district, i.e. their law firm's, psychiatrist for an evaluation; he determined I might be delusional because I was imagining harassment. In one year from the first remediation, I was terminated for alleged insubordination and unprofessionalism.

I was entitled to due process as a tenured teacher, which meant that the Illinois State Board had to hold a tenure hearing to decide if the termination were proper, reinstating me if it were not. The hearing officer selected, refused to allow me witnesses that could speak to the lack of credibility of the administrators and stated that he didn't care if "they were after me." According to him, the issue was whether I was insubordinate and unprofessional, and not about the administrators, even if they were untruthful or harmful to my health, forcing me to take a stand. Insubordination is refusal to follow reasonable orders; he refused to examine whether the orders were reasonable, assigning the administrators absolute power, reminiscent of a system abolished in the days of Lincoln.

The kangaroo trial ended in August 2000 and the decision was due by state statute in December of 2000. No decision has been rendered. The hearing officer has promised a decision on six or more occasions and then has done nothing. I have contacted the Illinois Governor, Attorney General, Lieutenant General, Thirty one State Senators and representatives on the Education Committees, the Chairman of the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent, my local federal representative, our two state senators, The Chicago Tribune, and President Bush. My voice has dispersed into a vacuum. Teachers are not heard.

Considering that people are outraged that the terrorists might not receive due process, why isn't there any outrage that a teacher is being denied due process? People need to wake up and see why our schools are so dysfunctional. They are organized crime designed to meet the needs of the people in power, not the needs of our children. Is it any wonder they can't
attract or keep excellent teachers? Until we put teacher abuse on the map and attempt to eradicate it as we have child and wife abuse, it will flourish. Without requiring accountability of administrators or state agencies, we can expect our schools to continue failing. We must level the playing field. Jerry Jesness's experience almost two decades ago proves this has been left unchecked for far too long. We need more media people to take this issue on. Cheers to the Dallas Morning News for airing this.

More from Karen Horowitz (April 4, 2002) on abuse in the education community

I am forwarding a message from a courageous special education teacher who stood up to her school board and asked them to investigate the fabricated charges against her after she attended a student's IEP and revealed violations of the federal law SPEC IDEA 97. In their "business as usual" paradigm, the board ignored the pleas of over a dozen parents as well as my representation for our soon to be incorporated association against teacher abuse. They know they have operated above the law for years, and they had no intention of concerning themselves with my mention that people are beginning to expose them.

Cheryl Mix, filed a charge of discrimination with the Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights on 2/19/02, and three days later she received an evaluation indicating she was harmful to her students, when for the past three years, at the same district, she received glowing evaluations. I informed her board about the scandalous behavior of Avoca District #37, that took parallel actions against me, but apparently their attorney from Robbins, Schwartz, advised them in the same way they advised my school district, "You don't have to worry. Teachers and parents have no power. Laws are not enforced for schools."

The parent of the child, whose rights she helped to defend, gave a heartfelt plea, realizing that Cheryl Mix lost her job because she had the moral courage to stand up to the system and advocate for his child. He showed them a picture of his happy child last year when her needs were being met, and this year looking depressed. A dozen other parents uttered total dismay that they would dispose of an excellent, caring teacher who reached each child with love and inspired them to be their best.

When a parent spoke in a dramatic tone, The Board President, Jane C. Wojtkiewicz responded with "There is no reason to be dramatic," revealing that disgust and despair over institutionalized child abuse is not reasonable. However, Ms. Wojtkiewicz did become agitated when a parent suggested that the district rid themselves of a particular administrator, whose salary would allow them to hire three teachers like Cheryl Mix, when, in his opinion, this man was a detriment to the district. To that she replied, "I will not have you speak of the administrators like that," illustrating that the board's allegiance was to the administrators and not the parents, teachers or children.

I have to believe that this scene at District #63 was not much different from that of the Salem Witch trials. In those days, one had only to suggest that a person was a witch, and they were put to their death. Karen Beck, the principal who wrote the fabricated evaluations, had only been with the district for two years, and yet she had the power to deprive children of a special teacher, and destroy that teacher's life. From the look on Miss Beck's face, it appeared that she derived much pleasure from this privilege. How sad that we have learned so little from history, particularly in the institution where it is taught!

As I listened to their words, I kept thinking about a statement a parent had made in a letter to my district when they disposed of me. "Throughout the years, past experience has shown, that what the parents want and what the children need is not important….it is what Dr. Sloan (Superintendent) wants is what goes." That letter was submitted at my tenure hearing, with that sentence removed. Obviously, my district knew that this statement was an indictment of our current system, and decided that the letter needed to be altered. They also knew that the allegedly unbiased tenure hearing was as much as an illusion as schools for the sake of our children is, and that they could enter an altered document with no concern they might be held accountable for what in a "real" court of law would be injustice and punishable.

Our schools are not about our children, and until the public uncovers this intentionally buried secret, we can be sure they will continue to deteriorate and thus affect our society accordingly. Last night was bittersweet. It was inspiring to see Cheryl Mix stand in her power and refuse to go to the back of the bus with the rest of the employed teachers. It was sad to see that not one teacher spoke in her defense, with the exception of myself. It was exhilarating to be free and to be able to exercise my constitutional rights and speak out in her defense because I am no longer am an employed teacher. It was sorrowful to watch the dejected parents listen to the board ignore their pleas and terminate her anyway.

As David Horowitz said, "This country can't continue to be the home of the free, unless it's also the home of the brave." Thank you Cheryl for being brave. Your little voice will be big as part of our movement to expose teacher abuse and get our schools back for our children. It is only a question of time. I had to fight my battle all alone. Cheryl had considerable support. Three reporters, not only diligently took notes about the process, but stayed until after 11:00 PM to hear the outcome when the board, in their customary tactical style, went into executive session for over an hour to encourage the audience to give up and go home. When the press scrutinizes, eventually our country restores balance. Thank goodness they are finally realizing teachers need them. Without constitutional rights, teachers are locked deep within a process of abuse, unable to expose it.

The next teacher will have even more support, and eventually districts will be held accountable. It took me four years to gather up fifteen brave voices from all over the US. I have finally accomplished this, and we are on our way. A group to prevent teacher abuse is about to be incorporated. Pandora's box has been opened, and we are about to instill courage in other teachers who have agonized over the choice of doing the right thing and being crucified by the system, or remaining silent. One of these days, administrators all over the US will see us on Oprah or Dateline, and run for the hills. Until then, help us by passing this on to anyone you know who cares about our children, our society, and our stability as a nation. Without a strong citizenry, we will not be able to stand up to terrorism. Our public schools determine our strength. Based on my experience with school districts, we can be sure that our children will grow up void of moral
leadership and purpose, and thus we can expect that the next generation of leaders will be even worse, if that is possible. Together we can change the course.

Karen Horwitz
A Front of the Bus Teacher

Tell teacher friends to contact me and join our organization for support. Tell parent friends to contact me and join our organization to get our schools back. Tell taxpayers it is time they know the truth about our public schools, and we need them too. We are all paying for this with taxes, and in many ways. Let's stop subsidizing institutionalized child abuse and say no to schools that operate like organized crime.

From Eva M. Roberts (reply to Karen Hortwitz), April 5, 2002

Not only did the district know that Cheryl filed with OCR they also knew that (2) separate complaints were made with the Illinois State Board of Ed. These complaints pertained to the IEP meeting in which started this whole situation. In one of the complaints a parent present at the IEP pointed out that she believed Cheryl Mix, the teacher, had now been targeted by administrators. The parents threw that line in to start a paper trail on Cheryl's behalf.

This district, my district laughs at the laws. This is not over. I am one of the parents who support Cheryl and helped to organize others for the board meeting. This will be exposed!!!! I can promise you I will not rest until that happens!!!


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