Progress Slow in New York Goal to Rid Schools of Bad Teachers

Ten others whom the department charged with incompetence settled their cases by resigning or retiring, and nine agreed to pay fines of a few thousand dollars or take classes, or both, so they could keep their jobs. One teacher lost his job before his case was decided, after the department called immigration officials and his visa was revoked. the cases of more than 50 others are awaiting arbitration.

Lawyers for the department said an additional 418 teachers had left the system after finding out that they could face charges of incompetence. because no formal charges were brought in these cases, the number is hard to corroborate; officials from the teachers’ union said they doubted it was that high.

Ridding schools of subpar teachers has become one of the signature issues of national education reformers, but the results in New York City show that, as is true in many school systems around the country, the process is not easy.

The city’s effort includes eight full-time lawyers, known as the Teacher Performance Unit, and eight retired principals and administrators who serve as part-time consultants to help principals build cases against teachers. Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, said that the team, whose annual budget is $1 million, had been “successful at a far too modest level” but that it was “an attempt to work around a broken system.”

Mr. Klein and his boss, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said they were hampered by cumbersome state laws that had been heavily influenced by the teachers’ union here, although many of the rules that govern the cases were agreed to by the city.

“The process makes it virtually impossible to remove a teacher within a reasonable amount of time,” mr. Klein said in an interview. “Nobody thinks that the number of cases is reflective of the teachers who should be removed.”

Such complaints have put teachers’ unions on the defensive. last month, Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers and the former head of New York City’s union, promised to study the issue of removing teachers and asked Kenneth R. Feinberg, who allocated compensation to families of Sept. 11 victims and most recently worked with the Obama administration on executive pay, to develop a more efficient system.

Mr. Klein has been speaking with the United Federation of Teachers, the city’s union, about amending the process. But Michael Mulgrew, Ms. Weingarten’s successor as president of the New York union, said that even without changes in state law, the process of removing a teacher could be accelerated; he declined to elaborate.

“The amount of time that these cases take is no good for anyone,” mr. Mulgrew said. “Everybody wants a good teacher in every classroom. if everybody has a willingness to speed up, I don’t believe it needs to take this long.”

A glimpse inside the hearing of one veteran teacher this month showed how drawn out the process can become.

Inside a barren room near City Hall, the teacher, Michael Ebewo, sat at a table as the principal of the Manhattan middle school where he had taught for years, Isaac Newton Middle School for Math and Science, began to go through each of the many deficiencies she said she had found in his classroom.

There was a chart with misspellings and unclear instructions. there were students staring into space and doodling rather than completing their worksheet, which contained questions that the students, who were in special education, had difficulty understanding. Rather than pressing the students for answers, mr. Ebewo simply answered himself, making the students only more confused.

At the time of that visit, the principal, Lisa Nelson, criticized mr. Ebewo, who had been teaching for 15 years, for not having proper behavior incentives and consequences for the students. the next time she came to the classroom, Ms. Nelson said, he distributed candy to students early in the morning, something she said “even a layperson” would object to.

Mr. Ebewo’s lawyer interrupted with objections more than two dozen times, but the arbitrator overruled him in nearly every instance. the hearing, which covered lessons dating to 2005, lasted four hours. the principal was only the first of several witnesses the Education Department would call to try to prove that mr. Ebewo was unfit to be in any classroom.

Mr. Ebewo, through his lawyer, declined to comment for this article. His case took years to reach a hearing because of a state law that requires the city to show evidence that it has given the teacher a chance to improve and instruction on how to do so. any missing file could jeopardize a case, lawyers for the department said.

And the hearing will probably go on for months, because of a rule the city agreed to four years ago. In an effort to impose more order on the process, the city and the union agreed to set up a panel of arbitrators to hear such cases regularly. there are only so many arbitrators, however, and lawyers can handle only so many cases at once, so the arbitrators hear a case only five days a month.

Progress Slow in New York Goal to Rid Schools of Bad Teachers

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