Education

Why Protect the Worst Public School Teachers?

| by Reason Foundation

by Ronald Bailey

Paraphrasing the old publicist's line: If you read one article on government schools this year, you must read "The Rubber Room: The battle over New York City's worst teachers" in the August 31 edition of The New Yorker by Steve Brill. (I apologize for taking so long to get to it, but New Yorker issues do tend to pile up.) Teachers charged with misconduct or incompetence are consigned to Temporary Reassignment Centers ("Rubber Rooms") where they just sit all day drawing their salaries, waiting years for their cases to come to arbitration. Brill opens with the case of teacher Brandi Sheiner:

“Before Bloomberg and Klein took over, there was no such thing as incompetence,” Brandi Scheiner [standing in the Manhattan Rubber Room]. Scheiner, who is fifty-six, talks with a raspy Queens accent. Suspended with pay from her job as an elementary-school teacher, she earns more than a hundred thousand dollars a year, and she is, she said, “entitled to every penny of it.”

Not too surprisingly, Sheiner refused to open her file for Brill.

In one horror story detailed by Brill, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) featured on its website the tale of teacher whom it claimed, "Though she believes she was the victim of an effort to move senior teachers out of the system, the due process tenure system worked in her case." It turns out that she had been found in an alcoholic stupor several times in her classroom. When Brill pointed this out to the UFT, and asked to be put in touch with the teacher, a union representative said he had tried to contact her, but couldn't find her. Brill goes on to report:

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I reached Adams, and she told me that no one from the union had tried to contact her for me, and that she was “shocked” by the account of her story on the U.F.T. Web site. “My case had nothing to do with seniority,” she said. “It was about a medical issue, and I sabotaged the whole thing by relapsing.” Adams, whose case was handled by a union lawyer, said that, last year, when a U.F.T. newsletter described her as the victim of a seniority purge, she was embarrassed and demanded that the union correct it. She added, “But I never knew about this Web-site article, and certainly never authorized it. The union has its own agenda.” The next morning, Adams told me she had insisted that the union remove the article immediately; it was removed later that day. Adams, who says that she is now sober and starting a school for recovering teen-age substance abusers, asked that her real name not be used.

One telling line in the article describes the perceived goals of Randi Weingarten, the former head of the UFT:

Anthony Lombardi, the principal of P.S. 49, a mostly minority Queens elementary school, puts it more bluntly: “Randi Weingarten would protect a dead body in the classroom. That’s her job.”

If you ever doubted that the public schools are chiefly run for the benefit of teachers, this article will put those fond delusions to rest. Educating children is an incidental side effect of giving teachers jobs. Of course, not all school systems are as dysfunctional as New York's is, but the monopoly power of government schools cannot help but foster creeping incompetence and the growth self-justifying educational bureaucracies at the expense of educating students.

Of course, Reason was on the case well before The New Yorker got around to it. Take a look at the October 2006 Reason article "How to Fire an Incompetent Teacher: An illustrated guide to New York's public school bureaucracy," by John Stossel.