Not from the Onion: Teacher Rubber Rooms

by on June 24, 2009 at 7:18 am in Education | Permalink

Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that's what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its "rubber rooms" – off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues – pretty much anything but school work….Because the teachers collect their full salaries of $70,000 or more,
the city Department of Education estimates the practice costs the
taxpayers $65 million a year.

More here.  Hat tip to Drea at Business Pundit.

Addendum: Rubber Room the movie (hat tip to Andy Orr) and from Gordon in the comments Rubber Room on the radio.

1 Andrew June 24, 2009 at 7:46 am

In other news, the government to cut medical costs because they are big enough to have bargaining power, or some $#!+.

2 Vake June 24, 2009 at 7:53 am

The TAL episode about this (above) was great. How do I get one of these jobs?

3 Nick June 24, 2009 at 8:05 am

In the This American Life story on this topic they interviewed a number of teachers who had been pulled out of the classroom and stuck in the rubber rooms — most of them had not been told why they were there and what they had allegedly done wrong. Nor did they know how long they would be held in the rubber rooms.

4 Tom June 24, 2009 at 8:16 am

“I want that job!”

But I’d want to telecommute.

5 Joseph Logan June 24, 2009 at 8:30 am

The US Postal Service has a system like this for workers at its processing and distribution centers. It’s usually used for minor injuries (well enough to come to work, not well enough to do the job), but it occasionally accommodates more vague circumstances.

6 MattJ June 24, 2009 at 8:35 am

Why can’t they be put to work grading papers or formulating exams? That would free up time so that the rest of the city’s teaching staff could spend more time with the students.

7 AADL June 24, 2009 at 8:44 am

Y = C + I – (G + T)

C + I = private production

G + T = State depradation

8 Daniel Reeves June 24, 2009 at 9:17 am

That’s what I was thinking, MattJ. Maybe not specifically that, but there’s definitely work to be done.

9 Zbicyclist June 24, 2009 at 10:01 am

This is the visible horror. The invisible horror is the millions of kids who are taught by teachers who would not be re-contracted under an “at will” system because they aren’t teaching well enough, but who aren’t doing anything badly enough to go through the contract procedure.

10 Joe June 24, 2009 at 10:25 am

My Mom was an NYC public school teacher, and her biggest chalenge to getting the best education to her students was teh union and the union rules. She needed to hire VERY carefully…If she got a lemon there was no lemonade. The union made it hard to get the most qualified in front of the students.

11 Gabe Harris June 24, 2009 at 10:32 am

John Taylor Gatto- NYC public school teacher, multiple National Teacher of the Year awards. If you don’t read his views on education then you are just willfully ignorant.

12 Paul Holden June 24, 2009 at 11:04 am

There are two unanswered questions in the article. The first is why does the City not hire sufficient arbitrators to clear this backlog – it just makes no sense not to. The second is why do union rules prevent reassignment to an administrative job. If both the City and the union are interested in efficiency both these things should happen. The political economy question is why aren’t they?

13 Andrew June 24, 2009 at 12:08 pm

I heard this months or maybe even years ago, and yet this program persists. They can’t even get these people to do something productive? Have them make videos or something. Maybe there are some people just not suited for classrooms. Wow, that’s a novel concept- everyone isn’t identically talented.

This is essentially the same organization that people think is going to have some central committee give the go/no go on medical procedures. They have demonstrated such ability for allocation of resources, let’s give them more power and responsibility fo’ shizzle!

14 Russell W June 24, 2009 at 1:34 pm

I can understand that if a teacher has had an allegation leveled against them, the school may have to temporarily take them away from kids. I don’t understand why these teacher couldn’t be used for more useful purposes like grading for other teachers, and helping to take some weight of of the rest of the school system’s staff. Not utilizing them in some fashion is really wasteful. I first heard about this on This American Life as well and the thing that really struck me as odd was how many of the teacher didn’t see to know what to do with themselves. As wasteful a situation as it is, it’s just made worse by people who don’t even seem to know how to better themselves–something we should be instilling in everyone in our country’s schools.

15 mulp June 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm

If I remember correctly, according to the Stollel report it usually costs about $1,000,000.00 to fire a teacher in the NYC system.
Hmmm, boards of directors should learn something from this practice. Instead of paying CEOs $10-25 million dollars to leave, they should send them to a CEO rubber room where they merely draw their million dollar a year salary.

I don’t think that many CEOs would stick around for a decade in a rubber room like the teachers in NYC apparently do.

16 Dan H. June 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm

They can’t get these people to do something productive because other union jobs around those activities are protected, or because union rules explicitly dictate jobs the teachers do, and the union won’t bend.

I have a friend who manages nursing units, and a while ago she went through the process of trying to get a nurse fired. This nurse wasn’t just incompetent, she was nuts. She’d do things like stand in front of the medicine cabinet and refuse to let other nurses near it because she was mad at someone and was trying to make a ‘point’. The other nurses complained about her constantly.

In the end, her case went to arbitration and the union tried to turn it into an attack on management. The end resolution was that the nurse was transferred to another nursing unit, but with her record completely expunged of any negative comments or descriptions of her bad behavior so she could have a ‘fresh start’. This means some other nursing manager had critical information about a potential employee withheld from her – information which could potentially create patient safety issues.

The union always claims that their rules are in the interest of the patients, just as the teacher’s unions always claim that their rules are in the best interest of the students. But really, the whole structure is set up to benefit the union first, the unionized employees second, the system as a whole third, the patients or students fourth, and the taxpayers last.

17 Alan Brown June 24, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Wow. Thank you, Gabe Harris, for pointing out John Taylor Gatto. Definitely an intelligent voice on education.

18 Gordon Mohr June 25, 2009 at 12:39 am

San Francisco’s Police Department has a similar system:

SF Weekly: SFPD’s shadow disciplinary system wastes taxpayer money

FTA: “This veritable padded cell for inactive police costs the city tens of millions of dollars per year”

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20 techreseller June 29, 2009 at 12:12 pm

One point that has been missed so far in the dialogue is that the excellent teachers that have been accused unfairly or inaccurately are the most likely to quit and move on. It is the shirkers and the guilty that are most likely to hang on as long as possible. This system is bad both coming and going. So the rubber rooms encourage the best to leave and the worst to continue collecting money from the taxpayer.

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