The Rubber Room.


Some mornings it’s best not to read the paper. This morning was like that. I read NY Times education columnist, Sam Freedman’s column on the Rubber Room. Talk about depressing.

If you haven’t been following this story, let me review.

Back in September, the vile New York Post ran a story on the Rubber Room. It ran the headline, WHY IS THE CITY PAYING 757 PEOPLE TO DO NOTHING?

The Post described the Rubber Room this way:

For seven hours a day, five days a week, hundreds of Department of Education employees – who’ve been accused of wrongdoing ranging from buying a plant for a school against the principal’s wishes to inappropriately touching a student – do absolutely no work.

The article implied that these DOE employees were guilty of something and were doing the equivalent of living off the public dole.

The story popped up again on Whitney Tilson’s blog. We’ve talked about Whitney before. He’s the private charter school investor and friend of hedge fund managers who has taken up education as an investment opportunity.

He ran with the Post story:

This NY Post article about the city’s rubber rooms highlights the many problems with this awful system, but leaves a misleading impression that there are lots of great teachers there, being punished for minor infractions by vindictive principals. This is total nonsense. While I’m sure there are a tiny handful of teachers who have been unfairly accused or treated, the vast majority of teachers in these rubber rooms are incompetent bad apples who, in any sane system, would have simply been fired, but thanks to the union contract, it’s almost impossible to do so.

This was a potential hat trick for Whitney. He could blast teachers, public schools and unions all in one story.

But our friend Leo Casey at Edwize blocked the shot.

How does Whitney know this? Unlike the Post reporter, he didn’t talk to anyone in the rubber rooms. He didn’t talk to anyone in the union. Hell, he didn’t even talk to anyone in the DOE.
Evidence? That’s for folks who look at a question with an open mind, and for people who think that before you fire someone, you should actually have some proof that they did something wrong.

It turns out that that someone is Samuel Freedman.
Freedman, who has been covering schools for 20 years says:

Throughout New York City, the Department of Education operates 12 reassignment centers, populated at any one time by about 760 teachers from a total work force of 80,000. And, let’s face it, they can be a hard bunch to defend.

But Freeman tells the story of Ivan Valtchev.

Back in 1968, when he was a graduate student of 24, Ivan Valtchev boarded a ferry from the Polish coast to Stockholm. It was the final leg in a complex and risky process of escaping to the West from his native Bulgaria. Newly free, he believed that he had left totalitarianism forever behind.

Sent to the Rubber Room where he is allowed to do nothing all day:

The room in question was about 1,100 square feet and on blueprints submitted to the Fire Department was designed to hold 26 people. On this day, it contained upward of 75. It had no windows, no land phone, no Internet access, no wall decorations, not even a clock. Any personal belongings left overnight were removed by custodians.
Some of the occupants faced criminal charges like assault, while others had been brought up by city education officials for termination due to incompetence or other causes. Still more, including Mr. Valtchev, had not yet received a formal letter specifying any allegation. Until their cases are resolved, which can take years, all are required to spend the 181 days of the school year in the rubber room.

A public school system in America designs a program for teachers that makes life in the former Soviet Bulgaria seem democratic.

One thought on “The Rubber Room.

  1. Oh, this is so true. . . many teachers are left sitting there forever because of the painfully slow way the doe conducts its business. A teacher I worked with spent 4 months in the rubber room because she was falsely accused of something by a student. The investigation finally cleared her, but then it took three weeks from when she was cleared until the paper work got signed before she was allowed to go back to work. Three weeks the doe was paying her, a competent teacher found to be not guilty, to do nothing for not other reason than their own incompetence.

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