By Lonnie Palmer
The new school year starts and again the NY Times runs an article about teachers assigned to the Absent Teachers Reserve pool – the infamous rubber room.
If you’ve never heard of it, the rubber room is a euphemism for 800 hundred educators, the vast majority of whom are teachers, who sit out the school year every year (costing taxpayers $150 million) because they either have serious disciplinary actions against them, including multiple instances of sexual misconduct, or are so ineffective no one will hire them.
The latest news from the NY Times is that New York City Mayor de Blasio has decided to “solve” this long festering problem by sending them – back to school.
Viable solution? Of course not.
And it’s not just about money poorly spent. It’s about the one million plus school children who attend New York City schools five days a week. Why should they pay for adults’ unwillingness to address the real problem – New York State and NYC teacher tenure laws and rules.
Research for my recently released book, “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform,” revealed the odds of a tenured teacher in New York City being fired for serious misconduct or ineffective teaching is infinitesimal. My conclusion was that tenure rules and laws have given us “statistically absolute tenure.”
No doubt: workers, including teachers, should have reasonable job protections but NYC’s overstocked and over-priced rubber room is proof that it’s possible to provide too much job protection for teachers.
So what is a realistic solution? I call my proposal the 2%/5% tenure rule. Any principal can terminate a total of no more than 2 percent of the school’s tenured teachers each year for either poor performance in the classroom or serious documented misbehavior. Principals are limited to terminating no more than 5 percent of the tenured teacher population over any five consecutive years. Any tenured teachers who lose their jobs due to poor teaching in the classroom must be given a clear explanation of their performance deficiencies and a one year chance to improve their teaching skills with support from the school district before the principal can fire them. But, if the procedures are followed and documented the teachers may be terminated without appeal.
And to make certain school districts don’t use the 2%/5% rule to fire senior teachers and replace them with cheaper, newer teachers, which they most certainly would, total pay differential for a replacement teacher should be divided equally among all the teachers in the school district.
Will public unions like this? No, but the legislators we send to Albany and the governor we elected don’t work exclusively for teacher unions. They work for taxpayers and if that’s not motivation enough maybe they’ll be motivated by concern for the safety and educational achievement of the more than one millions students who attend New York City schools.
“Too often leadership in US education has been defined as finding the best way to get through the challenges without creating conflict, without challenging assumptions and without making employees and school board members feel bad about not doing their jobs properly or effectively.” – Lonnie Palmer
Lonnie Palmer taught high school math and science and ultimately was an assistant superintendent and superintendent in suburban, urban and rural school districts in New York State. His solutions-based book “Why We Failed: 40 Years of Education Reform” is available on Amazon.