Clearing Out the "Rubber Rooms"

Photo: iStockphoto

Steven Brill‘s excellent 2009 article on New York City’s “Rubber Rooms,” classrooms filled with teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence, provoked understandable outrage at New York’s beat-up school system.  Now, two years later, it seems many of these teachers are being returned to the classroom.  “Many teachers accused of incompetence or misconduct sidestep termination hearings and take city Department of Education deals in which they admit some wrongdoing, pay an average $7,500 fine and return to the classroom,” reports the New York Post. “Some also agree to take college classes, study how to handle stress or even undergo testing for substance abuse.

In some cases, the DOE gets rid of accused teachers in deals that change their ratings from ‘U’ (unsatisfactory) to ‘S’ (satisfactory) if they agree to quit — thus helping them get jobs elsewhere.”  One thing the DOE doesn’t seem to be doing is firing many teachers: “Of 744 educators formerly in exile, only 33 have been fired after administrative hearings.”

David Kline

It's difficult to fire teachers. It's difficult to fire anyone in any organization in the U.S. It's not clear to me that it's any more difficult to fire teachers than anyone else.

Kristine A

what organization do you belong to? 4 of my 8 immediate family members have suffered from layoffs (including me) and the same companies fire for incompetence as well. The only ones who have weathered the storm? Jobs in the public sector (police, working for universities, etc.).

Businesses are still firing, but every company must now have clearly documented reasons for doing so because they WILL be up against an unemployment claim fight. The financial services company I worked for last year (and was laid off from) fired an insurance agent where we documented him sleeping in his office, glossy eyes (drinking on the job), etc. and we won that unemployment claim with no problem.

To say it's not any harder to fire teachers is laughable.

Avram Goldman

I was a teacher over 30 years ago and nothing has changed since I left teaching. I then went on to private sector management for 30 years. If an employee was sub-standard there was a process to either get them back on track or let them go. Businesses would be out of business if they took the approach the public sector takes toward managing employees. You wonder why our school systems and public sector are ailing. We can no longer tolerate incompetence. I don't blame all teachers, there are good, passionate and dedicated teachers. I do blame education management for allowing poor performing schools. Unfortunately many of the schools administrators are more incompetent than the bulk of teachers. I left the school system because I was disillusioned that schools did not have the interest of students at heart---poor administration, allowing incompetent teachers to remain teaching, and having a non-existent educational vision. Yes, there are parts of this country where children can get a good education. However, there are far too few. We are falling behind other parts of the world because we do not have the gumption to do what is necessary to fix our schools. It is not about dollars, it is about courage to make the necessary changes.



One of the reasons that education business administration is so poor in New York State is the requirements to be a school business administrator are too restrictive to someone who is not an educator.

NYSED requires a school business official to have an academic accumulation of a BA degree plus 60 graduate credit hours including a Master's Degree. Twenty four (24) hours of the 60 graduate credit hours must be in education administration and completion of an approved internship

The required "education" credits are typically in an education track than in a business track. Thus, many school business officials in New York State are persons who were initially educated to become teachers, and later became business officials.

If NYSED were interested in having a greater pool of qualified candidates, it would change the requirements.


Last thing you want is to make business in charge of educating children. Educators are trained in HOW and WHEN children learn. Never seen that taught in business.

Education isn't about profit margins, and cutting long-term programs for short-term gain. That leads to disaster, always has, always will. Ask Wall Street.


Keep in mind it isn't the teaching profession creating these policies - its done at an administrative level, by 'business' education experts.

Teaching children isn't a business, it is an art.


Teaching children isn’t a business or an art; it’s a science.

Dorian Deome

It sounds excessive, but I'm not all that convinced that all or even most of the 744 teachers warrant firing, or that accusations against them are valid. Considering that teaching at the K-12 level has one of the most absurd 5-year attrition rates among college-educated careers (there's more than a grain of truth to Scheiner's comment that incompetent teachers leave on their own, although the rigors of the profession combined with low salaries, frequent accusations of misconduct, and political and bureaucratic witch hunts are more than enough to encourage even the "best and the brightest" to seek better careers elsewhere), I find it hard to believe that the ones who remain are riddled with incompetence or misconduct. It's not an accusation that is commonly levelled against police officers, firefighters, astronauts, or even NFL football players--all of which have similar 5- and 10- year attrition rates (with the main difference that only teachers spend the majority of their time every day working with members of the public).

However, the more troubling issue is the implication that mere accusation is enough to warrant firing--which is one of the reasons for that 5-year attrition rate. I, myself, left the teacher certification program at my university after a student teaching experience where I was told by the principal that my sexuality--being gay--translated to "unfit to work with children" in that particular school. There's good reason for the need for accusations to be born out, even through an "arduous arbitration system," because of the high level of professional scrutiny placed on the most irrelevant aspects of personal life.

In any case, this seems to be just another "GET THEM!" story--which is disappointing, coming from Freakonomics.



Someone said that you don't pay a prostitute for her pay her to go away.

This happens all the time in big business. Sometimes it is via a golden parachute, generous severance packages, or what have you.

In our world--especially in this economy--being "fired" will likely put you at the bottom of the resume heap. Yes, these poor teachers need to go (and go now!), BUT BUT BUT...that doesn't mean that they are unfit for ANY job.

If a person is a poor teacher, it bespeaks someone who has either lost his/her passion for teaching (if there ever was a passion for teaching) or is perhaps in the wrong career. I'm betting more than a few sign up for teaching because they want a long summer vacation.

If we can shepherd these people to other, more productive, fields, we are all the better for it. A buyout--whether we buy them out or they buy us out--seems a superior to letting folks sit around, etc.

They pay us X dollars, we give them a "Satisfactory" and promise not to provide any negative official statements. Or, we give them a lump-sum settlement and they promise to never serve as a teacher again, unless and until they do X, Y, and Z, etc.

Lastly, if you want schools run like businesses, then quit hiring former teachers to be the administrators and principals. Put in someone who gets paid for PERFORMANCE.

Does anyone think that if Jack Welch were the head of a school district it would languish? NO WAY! He would find a way to continually peel off the bottom performing 10% until the school district was humming.

These sorts of guys understand the competitive nature of education--it's us vs. the world, in a very real sense. They get it, they love it, they thrive on it. And they will force change that takes us to the top.