Public school teachers who earn a form of job security called tenure rarely lose their jobs or even get a poor evaluation, state figures show.
Only 52 tenured teachers were fired statewide in connection with their evaluations over a 10-year period starting in 2000, according to state Department of Education records.
More than 20,000 veteran teachers were typically evaluated each year.
In addition, the rate of educators getting satisfactory evaluations was usually 98 percent or 99 percent during the same time, the records reveal.
Critics say the numbers show that tenure has outlived its usefulness, and hurts the state’s ability to improve student performance.
“Until the system is changed you are going to continue to have people in the system that are not in the best interest of youngsters,” said state Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge.
Carter unsuccessfully sponsored a bill to revamp tenure last year.
But backers say any problem removing poor-performing teachers rests with administrators, not the law.
“What would be the number I need in terminations that would make people think that the system is working?” asked Steve Monaghan, president of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, one of the state’s two largest teacher unions.
The state figures show:
• Since 1979, about 13 tenured teachers per year were fired out of thousands evaluated through 2009-10.
• In 2009-10, three tenured teachers were fired for incompetence out of nearly 24,000 reviewed.
• Tenured teachers have been getting overwhelmingly satisfactory evaluations for the past three decades.
Teacher quality is considered one of the key factors in student success.
Teachers earn tenure after three years in the classroom if they get satisfactory job reviews.
Tenure is designed to protect educators against arbitrary dismissal, and offers protections and a process if their job performance comes under fire.
School principals usually do the review.
But questions about the value of tenure have been springing up nationally and in Louisiana.
Chas Roemer, a member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, called BESE, has repeatedly called for an end to tenure and tried unsuccessfully to get state lawmakers on board earlier this year.
Roemer says tenure protects poor-performing teachers.
Holly Boffy, who was the 2010 Louisiana teacher of the year, told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge recently that teacher tenure should be abolished because some teachers take advantage of the law and it hurts children.
Boffy, who is running for BESE, said the low rate of teacher dismissals, and high rate of those winning satisfactory job ratings, raises questions about what constitutes a satisfactory evaluation.
She said the job protection creates a mindset that “Okay, I got a job, I can keep this job once I get tenure.”
Nancy Roberts, executive director and chief executive officer of the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators, said just because a teacher fares well for three years does not mean they should be in the classroom for 27 more years.
“It is an arcane system that doesn’t work anymore,” Roberts said.
But Monaghan said any problems with tenure rest with how it is implemented.
He said he is offended when he hears charges that teacher groups want to protect incompetent educators.
“No educator wants that,” Monaghan said.
Under a 2010 law, teacher evaluations will be linked in part to student achievement, which could affect the results.
In addition, the change will require annual reviews.
Joyce Haynes, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said tenure merely ensures due process.
“A union cannot protect someone who is incompetent, who has done something wrong,” Haynes said.
But Phyllis Crawford, a veteran principal at Sherwood Middle School, said she has only been involved in seven or eight tenure episodes in nearly three decades as a school administrator.
Crawford said the process is “very, very tedious” and the one case that reached a hearing “was the most uncomfortable thing I have ever done.
“I have to tell you I felt like I was the person on trial,” she said.
Carter said, while due process is essential, the process of trying to remove a tenured teacher can be so arduous that some principals just look the other way.
“They just rate them satisfactory and move on,” Carter said.