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Teachers No School Wants

By Walt Gardner — October 18, 2017 1 min read
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Whether it’s referred to as the rubber room or more accurately as the Absent Teacher Reserve, there’s a definite stigma attached to any teacher who winds up there (“Caught Sleeping or Worse, Troubled Teachers Will Return to New York Classrooms,” The New York Times, Oct. 13). The question is what to do with these teachers, not all of whom are guilty of incompetence.

The New York City system has finally decided to put a time limit on how long a teacher can remain there. If a school has an opening, a reserve teacher can be placed in it, after which the teacher will have one year to prove his/her abilities. If they don’t measure up, they can be fired.

I think a distinction must be made between teachers who were displaced because their schools were closed down and those who were accused of incompetence. For the latter, one year is too short a time because of the adjustment necessary. But overall, I think the policy is fair. The 800 or so teachers in the reserve cost the Education Department more than $150 million a year. That money is enough to put an additional guidance counselor or social worker in nearly every school in the mammoth district. It’s important to note that teachers who are charged with inappropriate relationships with students of a sexual nature are not in the reserve. They constitute a separate class. That’s also fair.

The larger question, however, is how teachers who are judged incompetent ever received their teaching license in the first place. This is where teachers colleges are to blame. For too long, they have resisted efforts to raise entry standards. In 2013, a study by the National Council on Teacher Quality rated only 10 percent of the 1,200 programs as adequate. Most programs had low or no standards for admissions because they are cash cows. But at the same time, let’s remember that there are some 3.2 million teachers in 90,000 public schools the U.S. I’ve long questioned whether quality and quantity can exist simultaneously.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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