Union Interests Outweigh Children’s Educational Outcomes in Democrat-Led Cities

Last year the CRNC surveyed young adults to find out the issues that matter most to them when choosing which candidates to support. Are most millennials and college students focused on the issues that make headlines, or are there other issues under the surface about which they care about deeply?

The top answer was, somewhat surprisingly, “fixing failing public schools,” which was chosen by 58 percent of young adults. It was surprising in that its a topic that you don’t often hear federal-level candidates discuss, despite how much they covet young voters. But it was simultaneously a “duh” moment in that many respondents had recently graduated from high school, having spent 13 years in the public school system. Public education is an issue they are both intimately and approximally familiar with.

To that end, young adults were given a perfect example this week of how liberals envision “fixing failing public schools.” Former deputy chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Marc Sternberg, writes in the New York Times:

In July, two weeks after the State Legislature reauthorized mayoral control of the public school system, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration quietly announced a policy reversal: In the coming year, schools will once again be forced to hire teachers that no other school has wanted to hire. As a former principal of a high school in the Bronx, I find it hard to imagine receiving worse news.

The new policy concerns the approximately 800 teachers in the city’s Absent Teacher Reserve pool, a remnant of a teacher-placement system based on seniority, not what’s best for schools or children. These are teachers who, for whatever reason, have not gotten a job in any of the city’s 1,700 schools, sometimes for many years. The city is in this position because the union contract makes dismissing teachers a virtual impossibility.

The Absent Teach Reserve (ATR) pool is a scandal in and of itself. The city spent $151.6 million in the 2016-17 school year on salaries and benefits for teachers that schools purposefully chose not to hire into their classrooms. According to the city’s Independent Budget Office, the average teacher in the ATR received $116,258, which is more than double the base salary for a teacher in the classroom ($54,000).

These teachers spend their days in the city’s infamous Rubber Rooms, in which teachers punch a clock for the school day, but then do literally nothing at all (unless, that is, you could napping, reading newspapers, and doing crossword puzzles as “something”). So why do they exist? Steven Brill explains in The New Yorker:

The stated rationale for the reassignment centers is unassailable: Get these people away from children, even if tenure rules require that they continue to be paid. Most urban school systems faced with tenure constraints follow the same logic. Los Angeles and San Francisco pay suspended teachers to answer phones, work in warehouses, or just stay home; in Chicago they do clerical work. …

By now, most serious studies on education reform have concluded that the critical variable when it comes to kids succeeding in school isn’t money spent on buildings or books but, rather, the quality of their teachers. A study of the Los Angeles public schools published in 2006 by the Brookings Institution concluded that “having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.” But, in New York and elsewhere, holding teachers accountable for how well they teach has proved to be a frontier that cannot be crossed.

But Democrats like New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are less interested in making sure that excellent teachers are in the classroom than they are making sure they have the political support of public sector unions. They are willing to overlook the fact that one third of the Rubber Roomer’s faced disciplinary or legal charges, and 20 percent received poor ratings, and less than half had applied for a teaching position in the previous year. Apparently none of that matters.

Heck, not even difficult-to-staff schools with high teacher vacancy rates and few resources, want these teachers in their classroom. As one principal told the New York Times:

A recently retired principal of a school in a hard-to-staff district disputed the idea that putting any teacher into a vacancy was better than other possible solutions. “I have had over the past five years a lot of A.T.R.s come in,” said the principal, who spoke anonymously for fear of repercussions for the school. “And I have to say, less than 10 percent of them — way less, maybe 5 percent of them — would I hire.”

Again, it apparently doesn’t matter.

Is this the public school system that young adults want? One in which union interests outweigh the educational outcomes of children? One in which politics leads a city to spend $150 million to keep teachers out of the classroom rather than use that money to invest in kids and schools? This isn’t a vision for “fixing failing public schools.” If anything, it’s a strategy to ensure they stay broken. 


Photo Credit: Kevin Case. See more of his work HERE