Cleaning house

"Should a thousand bad teachers stay put so that one innocent teacher is protected?" That's what Steven Brill would like to know in his excellent New Yorker piece. The issue is due process: How much is too much and how little too little for the incompetent, miscreant, and excessed educators who remain on the payroll but not in a classroom? Of the 1,700 New York City teachers who live in this state of limbo, and will cost the city over $100 million in salary and benefits this year alone, how many deserve a second chance? The system, as written into the union contract, says all; common sense lists a number far fewer. Deputy chancellor Chris Cerf explains, "Our standard is tighter than ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.'" So much tighter, in fact, that the two to five year arbitration cases for teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct typically take twice as long as most cases of the criminal persuasion. As elementary school principal Anthony Lombardi explains, "Randi Weingarten would protect a dead body in the classroom." But this should not be our biggest worry. Only a tiny fraction of the total number of incompetent teachers winds up in the famed rubber room or excessed teacher reserve pool. "If you just focus on the people in the Rubber Rooms, you miss the real point, which is that, by making it so hard to get even the obvious freaks and crazies that are there off the payroll, you insure that the teachers who are simply incompetent or mediocre are never incented to improve and are never removable," explains Lombardi. That's depressing enough to make any sensible reformer want to bounce his or her head against the wall.

"The Rubber Room: The battle of New York City's worst teachers," by Steven Brill, The New Yorker, August 31, 2009

"Amid Hiring Freeze, Principals Leave Jobs Empty," by Jennifer Medina, The New York Times, August 29, 2009

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