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HSTA, heed idea to improve teacher quality


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POSTED: Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hawaii's public school system would improve if the National Education Association and its affiliated Hawaii State Teachers Association follow the lead of another national teachers' union by opening the sensitive issue of due process to much-needed reform.

Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, has pledged to work with school districts to streamline the “;glacial process”; for dismissing failing teachers and separately commissioned an independent expert to help revise due process for teachers accused of outright misconduct.

The AFT's acknowledgment that the hard-won labor right could stand some revising does not leave its members out in the cold. Weingarten is open to the discussion only with school districts that work with the union to create fair teacher-evaluation systems and help ineffective teachers improve. A straight path out the door this is not.

The due process afforded tenured teachers requires administrators to present evidence of incompetence and allows teachers to appeal the decisions. Critics say many poor teachers remain in classrooms because the process is so lengthy and costly that few administrators attempt it.

The process is similar for teachers accused of outright malfeasance, although they can be removed from the classroom during the investigation.

In recently announcing the initiative, Weingarten cited an internal AFT survey that found that teachers, by a 4-to-1 ratio, wanted their union to put a higher priority on promoting good teaching than on defending the job rights of teachers facing disciplinary action.

Such labor-management collaboration would be welcome in Hawaii, where examples of the “;glacial”; pace of due process are evident. One recent example: the case of Lynn Dionise, a Big Island teacher convicted of trafficking crystal methamphetamine.

Dionese eventually was fired, but only after she was officially sentenced in federal court — months after she had pled guilty to the charges.

Weingarten recognizes that unions' tendency to protect members' job security at all cost exacts a high toll on the morale of its competent, law-abiding members. Her willingness to improve the process simultaneously blunts critics who blame teacher unions for the failings of the U.S. public education system.

By opening the discussion on the need to update one of the union's most dearly held rights, the smaller AFT sets a clear example for the 3.4 million-member NEA and its Hawaii State Teachers Association to follow.