The New York Post has decided to become the cheerleader for Rubber Room reform and while the paper has publicized some of the more egregious cases they have left up to Mulgrew and Klein to come up with solutions. Predictably both miss essential points.
First, the record needs to be cleared.
Remember when the words "Rubber Room" were too awful to say and we were cajoled into renaming this area as the teacher reassignment center? Well, it is obviously ok for everybody to go back to calling it the rubber room because Mulgrew calls it that. In any case the Post has highlighted six claimed abuses of the rubber room system which both Klein and Mulgrew agree is a symptom of a complex, evolved system that needs to be changed.
Where does the abuse lie?
For years the DOE has removed teachers from their classrooms based solely on unsubstantiated allegations and forced students to be taught by day to day substitutes. As principals were given greater authority over hiring and firing thanks to UFT contract complicity the rubber room, predictably, became a dumping ground for teachers and other staff that principals and other administrators simply did not like. The numbers grew and the UFT stood silent.
The UFT refused to hire investigators or supplement teacher defense strategy except to assign a couple of untrained people to act as a liaison to an already overwhelmed and under-funded NYSUT attorney defense team. As a result new rubber room occupants know as little about their case and are ill-prepared for arbitration hearings as they have always been.
The DOE hasn't done much better either. Knowing that UFT attorneys will gladly delay cases there is little pressure on them to move cases along. Both Mulgrew and Klein cite the lack of arbitrators as one of the main causes of rubber room expansion but the dirty little secret allows both DOE and UFT incompetence to delay cases. DOE attorneys have no authority or discretion, unlike other agency prosecutors, to withdraw cases and are generally forced to, at least, seek some plea agreement so that principals don't have to take the removed teacher back. The pleas, for the most part, involve monetary fines, but almost always require the agreeing teacher to become an ATR. Even totally exonerated teachers are forced to become ATRs.
Who is in the rubber room?
Klein wants you believe (and Mulgrew tacitly, by his silence, agrees) that the rubber room is made of totally incompetent teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The vast majority of teachers in the rubber are senior teachers with misconduct allegations, with a sizeable portion of the allegations coming from outside of the school system. Administrators have known for a long time that removing allegedly incompetent teachers from the classroom via charges of incompetence was extremely difficult because it required that these administrators actually prove their incompetence. While it easy to "U" rate a lesson thankfully most arbitrators recognize that 3020-a incompetence is not just a series of bad observations.
The Klein/Mulgrew Solution
Reading their op-eds you would think the rubber room "problem" (as they term it) could be easily solved. They want to suspend the accused (they already have this power in sexual allegation and felony cases conceded to by the UFT), hire more arbitrators or make them full time and put them to work doing administrative assignments (we will finally get those lunch forms in).
Just how would these "solutions" have changed the Post's so-called dirty dozen? Almost imperceptibly. They can't be suspended because they all had their hearings…just the DOE didn't like the outcome. More arbitrators would do nothing as they had timely hearings (unless you mean more arbitrators that didn't bother to listen to the facts) and putting them to work in administrative assignments is something that is routinely done for certain removed teachers and except for DOE ineptness could have been done for the teachers cited by the Post.
It is clear both the DOE and the UFT don't really care about the disruption to students' education or due process for tenured employees. The removal process is too swift and effectively unchallengeable. As long as the DOE permits principals to remove less favored employees and as long as the UFT refuses to effectively represent them the rubber room or whatever you want to call it will remain. It's a shame and we all lose.