Anote of gratitude is due Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffe for ordering the immediate firing of Matthew Kim after a tortuous seven-year saga. This wasn't the first time that Yaffe tried to inject common sense into the absurdly difficult and expensive task of ridding classrooms of teachers who don't belong there. His previous decision to allow the Los Angeles Unified School District to fire Kim, issued in July, was ignored by the panel that has authority over contested teacher dismissals.
The Kim fiasco is a reminder of just how many thousands of dollars and costly lawyers and innumerable court appearances are currently required to fire incompetent or otherwise troublesome teachers. And, adding insult to injury, Kim has been paid his full salary and benefits since 2003 while doing no work for the district.
So we find it a heartening coincidence that on the same day Yaffe ordered Kim's firing, the president of the American Federation of Teachers called for new procedures making it easier to remove bad teachers. Randi Weingarten, who has been one of the more progressive teachers union leaders, said the AFT would develop a proposal, with the project overseen by Kenneth R. Feinberg, the federal government's "pay czar" on executive compensation.
Here are a few ideas for fixing the system: Get rid of tenure altogether. Create a system in which all teachers, new and veteran, are entitled to regular and meaningful evaluations from both their bosses and a panel of master teachers.
Next item: Reform the California Commission on Professional Competence, the panel that considers teacher dismissals that have been appealed. Its record has been skewed to favor teachers, in part because it is made up of an administrative law judge and two teachers. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to eliminate the commission goes too far. Teachers still need protection from dismissals motivated by personal or political biases or by a desire to replace them with cheaper hires. But the commission's makeup should include representatives from school management and parent groups, and it should be required to hear cases more quickly.
In the Kim case, the panel at first decided that although he had acted unprofessionally by inappropriately touching three students, he should not have been fired because his misconduct showed only "poor judgment." Say again? When the panel was ordered to reconsider, it switched to a determination that the touching was an inadvertent result of Kim's lack of control over his limbs due to cerebral palsy. With decisions such as this, the panel's competence must be questioned as closely as the teacher's.