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One of the most indelible images that education reformers once trotted out in the fight for increased teacher accountability were the so-called "rubber rooms" in New York City. The holding areas where teachers who weren't up to snuff or were accused with behavioral offenses, such as sexual harassment, passed the days doing crosswords or napping while still earning their salaries were the perfect illustration of how tough it was to fire ineffective and bad teachers. (Those of you who see Waiting for Superman will see it prominently featured.)

In April, the city announced that it would shudder the rubber rooms this fall. So, what happened to the teachers that would normally go to pass time while they awaited judgement on whether they were going to be terminated or could return to the classroom?

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In what may be merely a symbolic victory in the fight to improve teacher quality, New York City announced that starting next fall, it would finally close its so-called "rubber rooms"—essentially places where teachers who are deemed incompetent or have been stripped of their classroom duties for mistreating students go to wait out their fates.

More than 500 teachers, all of whom are still drawing their full salaries (many of which are over $100,000), pass their days in these rooms doing a host of activities, none of which involve teaching New York City schoolchildren. While historically union contracts made it difficult to dismiss ineffective and inappropriate teachers and were largely to blame for the existence of rubber rooms in the first place, according to an AP report, the city announced today that it had come to an agreement with the teachers' union to handle "administrative or nonclassroom work."

Teachers have been known to languish in the rubber rooms, which they inhabit during regular school day hours—sometimes lasting as long as months or even years—at a cost of more than $30 million (the cost of all the not working teachers' salaries).

It was a New Yorker piece around the start of the current school year that highlighted the existence of rubber rooms to people outside the education system:
The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school—typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved—the process is often endless—they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

And here's the trailer for a forthcoming documentary called The Rubber Room, which was shown at an advanced screening at NYU last month:

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