ABC Highlights Movement to Loosen Union Rules to Fire Bad Teachers More Easily

 On Friday’s World News, ABC correspondent Ron Claiborne filed a report recounting some of the unreasonable problems faced by school systems when trying to lay off bad teachers as a result of hurdles put up by teachers unions. Claiborne noted one example of a Los Angeles teacher who was fired after five years of effort by the school system, costing $3.5 million. ABC anchor Diane Sawyer, who later admitted to having come from a family of teachers, gave voice to complaints over the system as she introduced the report:

Almost every one of us, parent and child, has been frustrated by a teacher who probably should not be teaching, but is protected by tenure or seniority, and the unions have been blamed. Well, now, for the first time under growing public pressure, a big teacher's union says they're ready to change that.

Claiborne’s report notably included a soundbite of former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee complaining about the difficulty of firing bad teachers, although the ABC correspondent did not note the role that organized labor played in defeating the mayor who appointed her, Adrian Fenty, in the Democratic primary in 2010, resulting in her dismissal in spite of impressive achievements.

Below is a complete transcript of the report from the Friday, February 25, World News on ABC:

DIANE SAWYER: And now we turn to the winds of change blowing toward public schools in America. Almost every one of us, parent and child, has been frustrated by a teacher who probably should not be teaching, but is protected by tenure or seniority, and the unions have been blamed. Well, now, for the first time under growing public pressure, a big teacher's union says they're ready to change that. And we ask Ron Claiborne to tell us what this means for American schools.

RON CLAIBORNE: It took the Los Angeles school district five years at a cost of $3.5 million to fire six teachers for poor performance. In Washington, D.C., 75 teachers were dismissed for alleged incompetence in 2008. One missed 20 days of work in two months. An arbitrator reinstated all of them. And in New York City, hundreds of teachers considered too inept to teach in classrooms continue to be paid.

MICHELLE RHEE, FORMER CHANCELLOR OF D.C. PUBLIC SCHOOLS: The public is responsible for continuing to pay full salary and benefits for these people year in and year out. That's an absolute waste of taxpayer dollars

GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R-NJ): Really there’s two places left in America where there's a profession where there is no reward for excellence and no consequence for failure. Of course, we all know the first one is weathermen. Unfortunately, the second one is teaching.

CLAIBORNE: Now, the head of one of the largest national teacher's unions is offering a proposal that makes a major concession, what has long been one of its core issues: tenure.

RANDI WEINGARTEN, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: If somebody ought to be removed, it will make it easier to do that.

CLAIBORNE: Under the proposal, a teacher rated unsatisfactory could be required to submit to an improvement plan which could last anywhere from a month to a year. After that, they could be fired within 100 days.

WEINGARTEN: The goal here is to evaluate, to help improve and, if we can't, to sever the teacher in a dignified way.

CHESTER FINN, THOMAS B. FORDHAM INSTITUTE: If you've got a really incompetent teacher, shouldn't take a year and a half to get them out of the classroom. That's not good for kids.

CLAIBORNE: Speaking to teachers today, some agreed there should be a way to weed out failing teachers. Others saw the proposal as an erosion of their job security, like one veteran teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, who declined to be named for fear of reprisal.

VOICE OF UNIDENTIFIED MALE TEACHER: It's wearing on teachers. We already feel betrayed by everyone.

CLAIBORNE: And we were just on the phone with the nation's largest teacher's union, and they, too, are on board with UFT’s proposal to streamline dismissal procedures for bad teachers. As budget cuts and, with them, teacher layoffs grow all across the country, this will be a key issue, Diane, who can be fired first?

SAWYER: All right, Ron, thank you. And I'm from a family of teachers, and we know that it's worth saying, good teachers are simply great. They're the central thing, heart beating in America. Thank you, Ron.