Rubber Room Rules

You…administrator…bastards…still…can’t…fire me!!!!

Matt has done a great job of describing how we could restructure schools to attract and retain the most effective people as teachers — most recently in this post.

But nothing really captures the insanity of granting lifetime employment to modestly paid graduates mostly from the bottom third of college classes with no reward for excellent performance like stories about rubber rooms.  Rubber rooms are the places where teachers too incompetent to remain in classrooms go to receive public paychecks for doing absolutely nothing.  A number of large districts have developed rubber rooms because it is prohibitively costly and time-consuming to actually fire a teacher.

In Los Angeles the rubber rooms have become so crowded that they’ve started “housing” teachers — paying them to stay at home.  In an excellent piece this week in the Los Angelese Times we learn:

“For seven years, the Los Angeles Unified School District has paid Matthew Kim a teaching salary of up to $68,000 per year, plus benefits.

His job is to do nothing….  In the jargon of the school district, Kim is being “housed” while his fitness to teach is under review….  About 160 teachers and other staff sit idly in buildings scattered around the sprawling district, waiting for allegations of misconduct to be resolved.

The housed are accused, among other things, of sexual contact with students, harassment, theft or drug possession. Nearly all are being paid. All told, they collect about $10 million in salaries per year — even as the district is contemplating widespread layoffs of teachers because of a financial shortfall.”

The Los Angeles Times also reported (in a separate article):

“The Times reviewed every case on record in the last 15 years in which a tenured employee was fired by a California school district and formally contested the decision before a review commission: 159 in all (not including about two dozen in which the records were destroyed). The newspaper also examined court and school district records and interviewed scores of people, including principals, teachers, union officials, district administrators, parents and students.

Among the findings:

* Building a case for dismissal is so time-consuming, costly and draining for principals and administrators that many say they don’t make the effort except in the most egregious cases. The vast majority of firings stem from blatant misconduct, including sexual abuse, other immoral or illegal behavior, insubordination or repeated violation of rules such as showing up on time.

* Although districts generally press ahead with only the strongest cases, even these get knocked down more than a third of the time by the specially convened review panels, which have the discretion to restore teachers’ jobs even when grounds for dismissal are proved.

* Jettisoning a teacher solely because he or she can’t teach is rare. In 80% of the dismissals that were upheld, classroom performance was not even a factor.”

If unions succeed in organizing charter schools, they could eliminate a refuge from  “worker protection” measures like these.

8 Responses to Rubber Room Rules

  1. This is nothing but a glaring example of a poorly managed, poor administrated, poorly run district. Administrators are, or in theory should be, paid to manage their school which, first and foremost, means their employees. How sad. An inability to effectively manage your employees is a massive failure of administration.

    It’s not a problem at my school, one the highest performing in the state. A teachers job is to teach, and, in my sixteen years, I know of no teachers who walked out of the classroom to protest the disciplining of an poor teacher. Put the blame where it belongs.

    Some districts have no need of rubber rooms because they effectively deal with personnel, and they have the success rate to prove it. In some districts, tenured and union teachers are regularly dismissed for misconduct and ineffectiveness. Those are well well run models. Most, sadly, don’t do this because it appears management is a much rarer quality than we expect.

    These types of stories are absurd. I worked at school where a tenured teacher brought up a porn site on his computer while students were taking a test (one saw it and reported it). The teacher was effectively escorted out the next day, put on leave during an investigation, and fired. Neither the union, nor the rest of the staff, nor the teacher protested.

    I can’t believe people allow school administration to effectively ignore one of their primary responsibilities because it is too difficult.

  2. matthewladner says:

    Michael-

    I partly agree with you, but I’d have to say that the biggest management mistake was for the school board to ever agree to this contract in the first place. The language is obviously in place to be abused.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Unfortunately this is not as isolated of a problem as you suggest. See for example, Scott Reeder’s work at http://thehiddencostsoftenure.com/ . For example, he finds that in the entire state of Illinois only an average of 2 teachers out of 95,000 employed are fired each year for performance. Surely, there are more than 2 poorly performing teachers in the entire state.

    And there are good reasons why administrators fail to fire bad teachers other than that those administrators are bad apples. Reeder finds that it costs, on average, $219,000 to dismiss a teacher in Illinois. It also consumes a huge amount of administrator time.

    It takes so much time and money because almost all union contracts and union-promoted policies and laws impose high burdens on administrators as part of the dismissal procedure.

  4. Greg Forster says:

    Plus, even if it were true that the problem were bad administrators rather than the near-impossibility of firing bad teachers, blaming the administrators only forces you to acknolwedge exactly the same problem one step up the food chain.

    If the administrators are lousy, why haven’t they been fired? Because it’s effectively impossible.

    Or perhaps the school board members to whom the administrators answer are all lousy at their jobs! In which case, why haven’t they been “fired” by the voters? Because (due to the self-serving electoral laws) it’s effectively impossible.

  5. Matt, Jay, Greg:

    I completely agree – the contract problem is with the school boards/superintendent, and any such group that ever agreed to a contract with so effectively handcuffs them is clearly incompetent, and should be held accountable and dismissed.

    I also agree that it is widespread, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Sadly, as I noted, effective school management is apparently one of the most difficult skills to acquire. When I first saw Stossel’s report on the NYC contract, I said it should be scrapped, and the entire district should start from scratch. It might take months of students out of school, but then voters might be motivated to make their school boards and administrators accountable, and teacher unions would have to walk the walk of being truly committed to improvement.

    In Denver, several years ago, and in a number of schools in Chicago, the administration has dismissed the entire staff and only hired back the effective teachers. I have no problem with this model. Any school administration that claims it can’t fire teachers, and that doesn’t clean house in the same way is simply shirking its duties.

  6. allen says:

    If the problem of hamstringing contracts is so widespread that suggests not so much incompetence on the part of school boards as an underlying factor which mitigates against the forcefulness required to oppose contracts which hamstring administrations.

    • Mike says:

      Most school districts and school sites are so poorly managed that the problem of poor ineffective teachers is simply emblematic of the administrations and districts that oversee them. If you hire poor administrators, have a poor school district superintendent and school board then you get and retain poor teaching staff. Most teachers want to do a good job, and most put their heart and soul into the job, but tackling problem students, problem parents, creating effective curriculum and dealing with inane, ineffective administrators creates, continues, and does not solve teaching problems. Fire from the top, and train teachers in what you expect then demand it, and positive results will follow. Blaming teachers for a districts inadequacies remains a safe and popular political stance, albeit an inaccurate and unfair one.

  7. mar says:

    You are ALL overlooking the fact that sometimes good, solid, strong, passionate teachers are placed in these rooms if the principal does not like him or her. I know this as fact because I am sitting in one such rubber room with a number of highly trained professionals. Last school year I won NYS teacher of the year….this year I’m here! Go figure.

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