2009 September 13 Sunday
Hard To Fire Incompetent Teachers in New York City

Writing for The New Yorker Steven Brill reports on efforts by the New York City school system to fire incompetent teachers. Bet they do not have this problem in China.

In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

All told 1700 teachers get paid by the City of New York to do nothing. I really hate the waste and parasitism of big cities.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all.

The administrators who want to fire teachers even when the claims against them are unproven argue that it is more important to err on the side of firing more teachers since the vast majority of the dismissed teachers will be of poor quality. The interests of the students should outweigh the fairness to individual teachers. I agree. The schools exist for the students, not for the teachers. But of course the unions end up capturing control of the schools and the interests of teachers take a distant second place.

Other urban school systems are trying to fight against the pernicious affects of tenure and teachers' unions.

The stated rationale for the reassignment centers is unassailable: Get these people away from children, even if tenure rules require that they continue to be paid. Most urban school systems faced with tenure constraints follow the same logic. Los Angeles and San Francisco pay suspended teachers to answer phones, work in warehouses, or just stay home; in Chicago they do clerical work. But the policies implemented by other cities are on a far smaller scale—both because they have fewer teachers and because they have not been as aggressive as Klein and Bloomberg in trying to root out the worst teachers.

Of course the article bows toward political correctness. What elephant in the room goes unmentioned?

By now, most serious studies on education reform have concluded that the critical variable when it comes to kids succeeding in school isn’t money spent on buildings or books but, rather, the quality of their teachers. A study of the Los Angeles public schools published in 2006 by the Brookings Institution concluded that “having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.” But, in New York and elsewhere, holding teachers accountable for how well they teach has proved to be a frontier that cannot be crossed.

What happens after a teacher sits in the Rubber Room for years and hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on hearings and investigations? The arbitrators are reluctant to fire teachers because the arbitrators want to keep their own jobs.

Klein’s explanation is that “most arbitrators are not inclined to dismiss a teacher, because they have to get approved again every year by the union, and the union keeps a scorecard.” (Weingarten denies that the union keeps a scorecard.)

Modest proposal: test the IQs of teachers and fire any teacher who has low IQ. That idea is way beyond the pale for liberal city school systems and for the liberal elites who still dominate the courts, press, and academia.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 September 13 12:22 PM  Education


Comments
not anon or anonymous said at September 14, 2009 7:51 AM:

Why aren't these people being put to work? Even if they are not competent to teach, they should be assigned to do clerical or administrative work, mark tests and exams, prepare lesson plans and the like.

Eric Johnson said at September 14, 2009 8:33 AM:

> Modest proposal: test the IQs of teachers and fire any teacher who has low IQ.

That's a little reductive. Does the size of r[teacher IQ, student outcomes] justify doing that? I don't dispute that it's size is probably greater than the r for any other measurable teacher trait, but that may not be saying all that much.

I certainly agree with the larger point: the harder it is to fire people, the worse everything will be. There should really be very few "protections" if any against losing your job. Even quite generous gov't welfare payments for the oft-unemployed are probably far preferable to not being able to fire people.

MaryJ said at September 14, 2009 9:52 AM:

Interesting. Rubber Rooms used to be employed in the railroad industry to bore unwanted but heavily unionized workers so much that they would get frustrated and quit, as the railroads couldn't fire them. I really don't know if they worked out as planned though. The railroad workers were forced to spend 8 hours a day reading rail timetables and other dreadfully boring literature. Sounds like hell on earth to me, but may be just fine for someone else.

This waste of public resources, especially at a time of dire financial straights for our country, is unconscionable.

Audacious Epigone said at September 19, 2009 5:40 PM:

How about something as modest as administering 8th grade NAEP tests to teachers and requiring them to earn at least "proficieny" (putting them in the top one-third of 8th graders) to continue teaching? NAEP tests for what children are expected to know, so it seems reasonable for teachers to demonstrate they are more cognitively advanced than most of their students.


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