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.

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

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”