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Report: Older data show second chances for many incompetent teachers

City teachers were likely to end up back in classrooms after serving a suspension or paying a fine, even after accusations of incompetence or misconduct were substantiated, a researcher has found.

The report, authored by Katharine Stevens as part of her work as a graduate student at Columbia University, is based on a small number of cases. The newest cases analyzed are also seven years old—before a number of changes to the teacher-evaluation process. But it pulls back the curtain on an opaque process that’s at the center of legal efforts to overturn teacher protection laws, and includes a number of dramatic examples.

In one case, a first-grade teacher ordered students to beat up another student, resulting in a 90-day suspension for the teacher. In another, a sixth-grade teacher routinely called his students “idiots” and “retarded,” resulting in five-month suspension.

In these and 153 other cases over a 10-year period ending in 2007, all of the teachers were found guilty of the charges brought by the city. Some were fired, but in 61 percent of cases, third-party arbitrators ruled that rehabilitation was still possible.

The reason teachers got off with less severe penalties so often, the report contends, is that case officers have increasingly based their decisions on whether there was any possibility of remediation.

It’s unclear if the new teacher evaluation system implemented last year will change that. Under the new system, teachers need to be rated ineffective for two consecutive years to be brought up on incompetency charges, which can lead to termination. But, Stevens writes, the law still allows teachers to serve suspensions or pay fines if hearing officers believe rehabilitation or improvement are possible.

Stevens’ research focused on six categories of charges: incompetence, absenteeism, corporal punishment, sexual misconduct, multiple convictions, and unprofessionalism. Education Week has a graphic showing a breakdown of how penalties matched up with the type of offense.

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