Yesterday we checked in on the Race to the Top debate in Michigan. Today, Detroit News editorial writer and columnist Amber Arellano writes up a guest post on the debate in Motown over the possible arrival of “rubber rooms,” which as we’ve noted on this blog aren’t as fun as the name implies.
Detroit’s New Rubber Room
New York City’s embarrassment is Detroit’s education reform “revolution”
This month the Detroit Public Schools posted the lowest student achievement results in the 40-year history of the NAEP. Educators began weeping when briefed on the news. And city charter schools, once Motown’s hope for change, on average are performing just as terribly as the school district.
As if Detroit’s education reputation couldn’t get any worse, consider: a new teachers’ contract, if ratified today, would create Detroit’s first Rubber Room.
Call it a “creative” contract as some economic analysts have — or call it devastating for school reform. Either way, the Rubber Room is a long way from Detroit’s state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s earlier negotiating goal of ridding of teacher seniority.
Bobb faced two significant hurdles during contract talks: 1) among the most militant and backward teacher union locals in the U.S.; 2) improving the worst performing urban school district by almost any measure.
He and Barbara Byrd-Bennett, his academic czar (former Cleveland supt and leader of NYC’s special chancellor’s district) got the Detroit Federation of Teachers to agree to create a new High Priority District within the district for chronically failing schools. High Priority teachers must be district-certified through a new evaluation process. The unfit “teachers-at-large” will be booted.
As Bobb and Byrd-Bennett readily admitted during an exclusive 90-minute interview, Detroit’s new “teachers-at-large” essentially will be put into a Rubber Room — unless they end up at a non-High Priority school — costing the bankrupt district millions and more national humiliation.
That’s because Detroit’s new contract doesn’t include an exit strategy for ridding of bad teachers. Plus, bumping rights remain at non-High Priority schools.
Anyone familiar with New York City’s infamous Rubber Room knows there are tremendous financial and human costs to Rubber Rooms — and such “special” districts.
NYC has drained its classrooms of millions to pay for salaries of teachers wasting away in Rubber Rooms.
Students in non-Priority Schools also are at risk for being dumped on with the low-performing “teachers at-large.” That is precisely the problem that Washington D.C schools chancellor Michelle Rhee is grappling with now due to teacher contract limitations, Rhee told the Detroit News.
So why did Bobb agree to this insanity?
“To get a contract, both on economic issues and on reforms,” he said. “Clearly we could’ve gotten there through bankruptcy, but with measurable impact on all of Michigan’s municipalities and school districts” and their bond ratings. “So we looked at how to move the dial in low-performing schools . . . There are contracts out there that include seniority.”
Added Byrd-Bennett: “I think there’s a place for a rubber room.” Her argument: Isn’t it better to have bad teachers in Rubber Rooms, rather than teaching students?
Bobb promises there won’t be many “at-large teachers” once his team creates an evaluation process — the first system-wide one in Detroit, ever — in January.
That change, though, depends upon whether the teachers’ union members ratify the new contract. Dissident union leaders are charging DFT president Keith Johnson with compromising too much on reforms, calling him a sell-out, among other choice words. His allies are championing the new contract as “revolutionary.”
As Bobb so aptly put it: “Anywhere else in the U.S., this contract would be considered evolutionary. In Detroit, it’s revolutionary.”
At the rate of this revolution’s change, Detroit kids will wait another century for better schools.
Amber Arellano is an editorial writer and columnist at The Detroit News.