Sunday, May 03, 2009
What Really Happens To The Reassigned Teacher?
There is some mystery on what actually happens to the reassigned teacher that finds him or herself sent to the Teacher Reassignment Center (TRC), otherwise known as the "rubber room". Based upon the available information at the Queens TRC for the school years 2007-2008 and this year, I can come up with some simple statistics that probably is representative of what actually happens to the reassigned teacher throughout New York City.
During the period investigated, I found that only 8% of the teachers reassigned to the "rubber rooms" were actually terminated. However, an additional 12% had resigned or retired and it is likely some of them would have been terminated if they went through their 3020-a hearing. The remaining 80% were evenly divided between taking a settlement by pleading guilty for a fine and going through their 3020-a hearing and getting a range of penalties from acquittal, to a 3 month suspension. There are some longer suspensions but none were issued during the period investigated. Of the people who actually went through the complete 3020-a hearing, the termination rate was 20% or one out of every five teachers. However, many of the teachers who were terminated were subject to felony charges due to theft of service, corporal punishment, or sexual misconduct. There were very few teachers who were sent to the Queens TRC and sent back to school without 3020-a charges. This group consists of less than 5% of the total teacher population.
Unfortunately, the actual statistics are a closely kept secret by the DOE, UFT, and NYSUT. Why aren't they published and broken down for public review is a question that needs to be answered. Occasionally the DOE allows some snippets of information that they spin to the newspapers. However, all three groups appear to believe that not providing statistics is in the best interests of each group. Of course, the lack of knowledge to the actual teacher reassignment process puts the teacher at an extreme disadvantage since the union does not provide real guidance to the teacher and the NYSUT lawyers are too willing to have the teachers take a settlement that makes them plead guilty to something they are not guilty of, pay a significant fine, and take a useless course or courses to add to their punishment.
Finally, please don't think that you will never end up in the "rubber room". If you are over 40, have at least 15 years in the system, and read the blogs you already have the top three risk factors to have a vindictive Principal reassign you. Please read the TAGNYC flyer being sent to all schools about the rubber room. It is interesting reading.
The Rubber Room: DOE's Dirty Little Secret (TAG NYC's flyer)
What is the ‘rubber room’?
Approximately 800 Department of Education teachers are warehoused in Temporary Reassignment Centers, known as rubber rooms. The DOE considers these individuals too dangerous to be around children, yet most will return to schools after languishing for months or years in off-campus sites.
Teachers receive full pay while waiting for the resolution of their cases. The financial costs are estimated as high as $65 million dollars; the human costs are seldom considered.
Reassignment Centers are called rubber rooms because doing nothing is maddening. Outwardly, teachers play cards, watch DVDs, knit, read books, and sleep. Inwardly, teachers lament the loss of successful careers and worry about uncertain futures. Feelings of fear, doubt and shame never subside.
Why are teachers removed?
Allegations of sexual misconduct, corporal punishment and other misconduct are so disturbing that the DOE banishes teachers to rubber rooms on just the word of a principal, teacher or student.
Certainly some teachers should not be in classrooms, but many charges against teachers are exaggerated or simply not true. For example, reporting unsafe conditions is insubordination; failing to immediately admit a late student to class is corporal punishment.
Principals frequently use false charges to retaliate against whistleblowers and to remove competent teachers who question the policies of the administration.
Reassigned teachers may also be charged with incompetence or be accused of crimes by outside agencies.
Incompetent teachers should be terminated, but many principals and assistant principals are not qualified to judge competence. Principals and assistant principals are required to have only three years of teaching experience. Possession of an administrative license does not guarantee knowledge of pedagogy.
The decision to remove a teacher is often based on personalities; a teacher who caters to the whims of the administration is rarely reassigned and never accused of incompetence.
Why do disciplinary proceedings take so long?
Education Law states that disciplinary proceedings against charged teachers must be completed within five months. The DOE and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) modified the proceedings. These modifications do not provide teachers with increased protection; instead they infringe on the rights of teachers and lengthen the process. The DOE and the UFT agreed that teachers can be removed before charges are preferred. Teachers are supposed to be charged within 6 months of their removal, yet some teachers remain in the rubber room for years without charges.
The DOE and the UFT also denied teachers the right to choose arbitrators. A fixed number of arbitrators are assigned on a rotating basis, supposedly to accelerate the disciplinary proceedings. However, more arbitrators are needed, timeframes are ignored, and cases can last for years.
The accused teachers are not responsible for the delays and they can expedite cases only by admitting guilt and settling.
Teachers who are charged with crimes by an outside agency face similar obstacles. Prosecuting attorneys continually ask for postponements, claim they are ready to proceed, and then ask for additional postponements. The teachers are again powerless to hasten the process except by admitting guilt.
Is justice served?
Arbitrators are paid approximately $1,700 per day and must be approved by both the DOE and the UFT. Arbitrators have a huge incentive to please both sides.
The UFT is happy if teachers do not lose their jobs; the DOE is happy if the arbitrator renders any finding of guilt. Teachers are rarely terminated or exonerated. The decision of an arbitrator is very predictable: a finding against the teacher, a fine, and reassignment as an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).
Teachers who become ATRs are substitute teachers permanently assigned to schools. They do not have programs and have little hope of returning to the classroom in a meaningful capacity. There are approximately 1,400 ATRs in the DOE. Most ATRs are tenured teachers with excellent records who lost jobs after schools were closed
Why does the process continue?
Principals who abuse the disciplinary process are not punished and they achieve their desired results: a troublesome teacher is removed and the remaining teachers are intimidated.
The DOE hopes that public opinion inflamed by the newspapers will result in the termination of ATRs. Mostly tenured teachers will be dismissed, and teachers without tenure are cheaper and easier to control.
The UFT is reluctant to protest the abuse of the disciplinary process. The UFT receives dues from over 2,000 ATRs and rubber room teachers, approximately $2.4 million annually. Positions for these teachers have been given to new hires and changing the system will cost the UFT money.
Teachers and students are hurt by the system, but neither group has a voice.
Parents and the public are kept in the dark and trust that policymakers will make the right decisions. So far they have not.
We teachers must all stand together and bring transparency to the system both at the DOE and the UFT. Separately, we are just fish in the barrel that the DOE can pick off at will.