My kids are now grown. But when they were in school (public schools in Nashville, TN.), both were tested and were able to be in the gifted program. Because they were smart and ahead of some of the other kids (my oldest was reading at three), I was often at the schools. I knew the guidance counselors, and sometimes had to plead or wrangle to have them NOT get a certain teacher, as plugged-in parents would hear the horror stories about a bad teacher. Sometimes in a public school, it was like weaving through an obstacle course. I will never forget, however, one conversation I had with the school superintendent. I had asked to see him regarding an art teacher who was so bad at controlling the classroom, it was pure chaos and the kids all said they were learning nothing. When I asked him why it was so hard to fire a teacher, he said, “Ms. Schulz, I am trying to get this ‘pass the lemon’ stopped.” I was flummoxed.

“What is ‘pass the lemon’?” I asked.

He said it was that, because of teachers’ unions, it was impossible to get teachers fired, so they would be passed on from one school to another. Then I asked, “Well, where do they wind up?” He suddenly looked like he didn’t want to give me the answer and, simultaneously, I realized where, and said, “Oh! They wind up where parents don’t complain as much?” and his reply told me everything. The bad teachers get passed on to schools in the poorest section of town, where parent involvement is often limited because of single, working moms who either can’t get to a PTA meeting (often held in the daytime) or have a harder time getting to the Board of Ed administrators; in other words, parents who feel they have no power.

This was years ago, but I had to complain often about terrible teachers and heard stories about teachers who actually had dementia but who, when a review was held regarding them, the unions would trot out parents from years before—who would come and testify what a good teacher they had been. I was also horrified to see, at the beginning of a school year, when I had managed to have my child avoid a certain teacher, seeing a child I knew was bright come out of the counselor’s office complaining about having to have Mrs. So-and-So for her English teacher. So I know firsthand about how the teachers’ unions care more about their teachers (and fight for them despite credible evidence of their ineffectiveness) than they do the students. At that time, most of the parents I knew who could afford private schools would take them out of the public system. We couldn’t, and the lottery for the best high school was not kind to my eldest. School should not be like this. Parents SHOULD have choice. We certainly pay enough taxes to have a good educational system. So, this is my story. Perhaps you should do some research into whether this “pass the lemon” scheme is still ongoing. The minority kids in poor areas suffer the most. All the best! Thanks for doing this! My kids “survived” the system but the word should be “thrived”!