The “dance of the lemons” is a term used to refer to the practice of reassigning bad teachers to new schools or districts, rather than firing them. By “bad” teachers, this means people who have been convicted of crimes or who have done other ethically questionable things. Many people in the education community and beyond are understandably upset with this practice, and a number of reforms have been proposed to end the practice.
You may also hear the dance of the lemons called “passing the trash” or “the turkey trot.” It stems from the very simple fact that it is extremely difficult to get rid of bad teachers, especially after they achieve tenure. One of the main reasons for this is the strength of the teacher's union; unions are designed to protect teachers, negotiating good contracts for them and ensuring that they are not fired without cause, but many unions will go to bat for every terminated teacher, including teachers terminated for very good reasons. Once a teacher achieves tenure, which can take as little as two years, he or she becomes virtually unassailable, thanks to the strength of the union.
In a classic example, a school responds to reports that a teacher is abusing his or her students with an investigation and a suspension, and the teacher threatens to litigate, backed by the union. Rather than dealing with the legal costs, the school might make arrangements with another school to simply transfer the teacher, in return for the teacher's agreement to drop the case.
Schools engage in the dance of the lemons for a variety of reasons. Getting rid of bad teachers isn't just difficult, it's also extremely expensive. While a teacher is on suspension or undergoing dismissal proceedings, he or she is entitled to pay and benefits, even if the teacher is in prison, which can be a drain on a poorly funded district. While poor teacher quality is an obvious concern for educational administrators, they may also find their hands tied by the tenure system, and sometimes administrators will find bad teachers shunted upon them; in many schools, hiring and firing choices are not up to the school's administrators, but rather dictated by the school board.
Several proposals have been made to end the practice, including laws that would ban people convicted of certain crimes from teaching, or reorganization of districts that would give administrators more power to decide which teachers to hire. At the very least, this would prevent egregious offenders from continuing to teach, and give administrators more autonomy. However, negotiating ways to end the dance of the lemons is tricky, as people do not want to undermine the strength of the teacher's union, which can be a powerful tool for good teachers.