the place formerly known as the rubber room

City releases data on outcomes of new due process procedures

Data released by the Department of Education today.

The city gave a glimpse today into the results of its new sped-up process for terminating teachers, the one that the Bloomberg administration said would put an end to the teacher holding pens known as rubber rooms.

The rubber rooms are technically gone; now, most teachers charged of incompetence or misconduct await verdicts in real schools and do administrative work. But the city failed to meet its goal of erasing the “backlog” of teachers who had been removed from their classrooms by the beginning of this calendar year. Roughly 11 percent of the teachers who made up the backlog — 83 out of 744 — are still waiting for their cases to wrap up.

Of those who have completed the process, nearly two-thirds of the teachers charged with misconduct or incompetence have returned to their classes, according to data released today by the Department of Education. Some were cleared of charges; others were fined or assigned additional training or counseling.

Roughly a quarter of those who began the termination proceedings are no longer in schools. Some were fired, and others either were forced to retire or resign.

The new numbers come at a time of heightened tension between the city and its teachers union over how to identify bad teachers and remove them from classrooms.

City officials are lobbying lawmakers in Albany to overturn the state’s seniority-based layoff system and replace it with a system that would dismiss teachers based on judgements of their merit. Union officials have fiercely resisted the proposed changes, arguing that the seniority-based system is the most fair to teachers.

Underlying the city’s push to change layoff rules is a view that the current system makes it very difficult to dismiss a teacher for poor performance. Between 2008 and 2010, city officials have said that they were only able to fire three teachers for incompetence. Teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence faced hearings that sometimes dragged on for months or even years.

In April, the city and teachers union struck their deal to expedite the process by which arbitrators hear and decide the cases of teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence. The union also agreed to a more robust teacher evaluation system, under which teachers who are rated ineffective could face a speedier removal process.

Teachers union president Michael Mulgrew argued today that the percentage of teachers who left the system as a result of disciplinary procedures suggests that the new hearing system is successfully helping rid schools of bad teachers.

“Everyone said we can’t fix this problem, but this problem has been fixed,” Mulgrew said.

The numbers the city released today did not distinguish between teachers disciplined for misconduct and those charged with incompetence, and city spokeswoman Barbara Morgan said the breakdown was unavailable this afternoon. She emphasized in a statement that the city does not see the problem as fixed.

“Ending the rubber rooms was certainly a critical step,” Morgan said in a statement. “However, we have much more work to do to ensure we put in place policies that allow us to keep our best teachers, quickly move the worst out of the system, and put our kids first.  That includes ending Last in, First out.”

Union officials said today that roughly 30 percent of the teachers who have left the department through disciplinary hearings over the last two years have done so because of incompetence charges.

Here is the city’s breakdown of the outcomes for 744 teachers reassigned before last September. Teachers who “signed stipulations” agreed to their outcomes before arbitrators issued a decision.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede