Do Teachers Really Need More 'Protection?'

In its October newsletter, the Michigan Education Association wrote that Proposal 2 “…goes beyond just protecting collective bargaining. It protects the middle class and working families, giving them a chance to negotiate for fair wages and benefits and the ability to support themselves.” 

Frankly, after reviewing teacher collective bargaining contracts and recent Teacher Tenure Commission decisions, it is astonishing that the MEA thinks that more protection is needed.

It is already very difficult to fire inadequate, bad or even criminal teachers. State laws specify and limit termination, and district-level collective bargaining agreements can place further limitations on teacher termination.

In June, for example, MLive reported that a teacher arraigned in Eaton County District Court for allegedly engaging in sexual conduct with male students was still employed by Grand Ledge Public Schools.

The Michigan Teacher Tenure Commission has protected a teacher who tested positive at work for marijuana and had documented cases of failing to teach (Stoico v. DPS, 2003); allowed a teacher to be reinstated though she had been found to be mentally unfit to teach (Clark v. Swartz Creek, 2009); and has protected a teacher who slapped a second-grade student and who had a documented history of using corporal punishment on other students (Okoro v. DPS, 2012).

In addition to those cases, the following limitations on teacher review and termination are disheartening — if you consider the purpose of public education to be the education of students.

At Orchard View Schools, student academic performance on tests cannot be used to judge whether a teacher should continue teaching. The agreement between the district and its MEA affiliate states:

...standardized test results of academic progress of students shall not be used in any way as valuative of the quality of a teacher’s service for retention.

The Ferndale school district has a similar provision in its bargaining agreement with its MEA affiliate. Its collective bargaining agreement states that “State test scores, ratings, or other standardized test results shall not be used in the formal evaluation of teachers.”

Certainly, a teacher’s performance cannot be evaluated on test scores alone. But a complete ban on using test scores seems to have little to do with ensuring that students are being taught by effective teachers.

In the LakeVille Community School District, evidence of “a teacher’s ability, performance, or personal characteristics that are not the result of an official evaluation or disciplinary action” cannot be included in a teacher’s personnel file.

The Berkley School District actually prohibits teachers from participating in the evaluation of other teachers. From the contract:

No member of the bargaining unit can observe or make written statement of an evaluative nature which can be used in the evaluation of another member of the bargaining unit.

Berkley’s provision seems designed to both limit struggling teachers from receiving helpful feedback and to protect teachers who shouldn’t be protected.

At some point, those of us not employed by a public school district have to ask, “How much more protection do you need?” In the private sector, the vast majority of employees are at-will, with the understanding that violence, drug use and incompetence are grounds for dismissal.

Teachers serve as educators and as role models for students. As such, it should be a mark of pride and professionalism to be held to a high standard. In a more professional work environment, high-performing teachers would be rewarded with more than just a single, additional dollar in pay, and on-the-job drug use and violence would be considered grounds for automatic dismissal.


Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.