Teacher Tenure Under Fire, as States Try to Cut Deficits

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It took the Los Angeles school district five years at a cost of $3.5 million to fire six teachers for poor performance, an investigation by a L.A. area weekly newspaper found.

In Washington, D.C., 75 teachers were dismissed for alleged incompetence in 2008. One teacher was let go for playing DVDs in class, another missed 20 days of work in two months. All ended up being reinstated by an arbitrator.

The story is similar in New York City where hundreds of teachers considered too inept to teach are kept out of classrooms, but continue to collect full salaries and benefits.

"The administration there has decided that it's actually harmful to children to have them in classrooms and yet the public is still responsible for continuing to pay full salary and benefits for these people year in and year out," said Michelle Rhee, former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools and Founder of StudentsFirst. "That's absolutely a waste of taxpayer dollars."

An even louder chorus of critics is attacking unionized public school teachers for their tenure and seniority rules, job protections that make it difficult to remove bad teachers.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is a vocal critic of the union rules.

"Really there are two places left in America where there's a profession where there's no reward for excellence and no consequence for failure. We all know the first one is weathermen -- unfortunately the second one is teaching," the governor said.

Yesterday, the head of the largest national teachers union responded to the continued criticism by offering a major concession, a proposal to make it easier and faster to fire even tenured teachers who are not making the grade.

"Under the proposal, a teacher deemed 'unsatisfactory' would be required to submit to an improvement plan which could last anywhere from a month to a year," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "If administators and peer experts thought the teacher had not improved, they would refer it to an arbitrator who would decide within 100 days to keep or dismiss the teacher."

Under the new proposal it would still take as long as 15 months to remove a teacher who's ultimatley determined unfit to be in a classroom.

Many of the teacher's union protections have already been eroded and thousands of teachers are being fired as states and cities cut their budgets to close deficits.

In Providence, Rhode Island, all 1,900 teachers just received termination notices, ahead of what are expected to be massive layoffs. The city's mayor says state law will alow the dismissals outside of seniority rules.

One veteran teacher from Providence spoke with ABC News, but requested to remain anonymous out of the feat that if she was identified, she would be targeted.

"We're already fearful for our jobs. We have tenure and we've all just been fired. Honestly, what else can they do?"

Across America, teachers and the unions that protect them are under fire.