Teaching Profession

With Click of the Mouse, 1,100 Chicago Teachers Discharged

By Linda Jacobson — April 26, 2005 3 min read

More than 1,100 Chicago teachers won’t be returning to their jobs in the fall, now that principals in the city’s school district are using a new system that makes dismissing ineffective educators a lot easier.

If teachers have been working there less than four years, and don’t have tenure, principals can simply use a computer program to choose one of six reasons why they don’t want those employees back for another school year. Administrators were allowed to choose more than one reason.

More than half—55 percent—of the 1,116 teachers were let go because they had problems managing their classrooms or they struggled in their relationships with students, according to school system records.

And 46 percent were fired because of instructional problems, meaning they were poor planners, were inept at delivering lessons, or had weak knowledge of the subjects they were teaching.

About 38 percent were deemed undependable. They might have had frequent absences, were late for work, or used poor judgment on the job. Principals’ checkoffs showed that 24 percent had poor communication skills. Rounding out the choices were teachers’ attitudes and “other.”

Just because the teachers were released from their assignments doesn’t mean they won’t find future employment at another school in the 426,000-student system, according to Mike Vaughn, a spokesman for the district.

“Nobody knows how the system works better than our principals,” Mr. Vaughn said. “But where a teacher is not a good fit at one school doesn’t mean they won’t be a good fit at another school.”

Some of the nontenured teachers, he said, were also let go simply because of enrollment shifts or budget cuts. Moreover, Mr. Vaughn noted, it’s not unusual to have about 1,000 of the district’s 26,000 teachers released in one year.

Old Category Eliminated

The new system—which brings the district in line with practices used in suburban Illinois school districts—is part of the 2003 contract with the Chicago Teachers Union that was negotiated by its former president, Deborah Lynch.

Even though it’s common practice in Illinois, it’s not typical elsewhere, said Jaime Zapata, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, the CTU’s parent union.

“This is not a usual policy by any stretch. It’s very much something out of the ordinary,” Mr. Zapata said. “Clearly, we feel very strongly that it is unfair to teachers and it does not value what should be the common courtesy of due process if nothing else.”

The CTU agreed to the plan as a trade-off for eliminating the status of “full-time-basis substitute,” which Mr. Vaughn said was a “nebulous” job category in which teachers had a full-time job but were not earning any time toward tenure.

Principals, he said, were in the awkward position of hiring tenure-track teachers, who would be more difficult to dismiss, or those full-time substitutes, who would be easier to fire.

“That’s a difficult thing to have to reconcile,” Mr. Vaughn said.

Now, all teachers are hired with a four-year probationary period before they earn tenure.

But Marilyn Stewart, the new president of the 33,000-member CTU, said the system—at least in its current format—is not something she would have agreed to, particularly the “other” category, which allows principals to give no reason at all for dismissing a teacher. A category reflecting that some teachers were let go because of budget shortfalls should have been included, she said.

“This stigmatizes teachers, and now, people are thinking these are bad teachers,” Ms. Stewart said. Rookies should receive help and mentoring if they’re struggling, she said.

She added that the new policy is no way to attract teachers to the district.

“This is not a fair process,” Ms. Stewart said. “Eleven hundred people are not dead weight. We are professionals.”

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