News Story

House Tries, GOP Senate Denies, Prevention of Poor-Teacher 'Rubber Rooms'

Perhaps the most infamous product of unreformed teacher tenure laws has been New York City’s “rubber rooms,” where incompetent teachers who no school principal wanted - yet was unable to fire — sat around getting paid to do nothing, sometimes for years. Reportedly, a new union contract will instead assign these bad teachers to administrative duties, but do little to make it easier to get them off the payroll altogether.

Michigan’s version of the same law also makes it difficult and prohibitively expensive to dismiss ineffective teachers. Rather than “rubber rooms,” here the law generates something called the “dance of the lemons,” where poor teachers are shuffled from school to school because they are so hard to dismiss. An effort to eliminate the need for both rubber rooms and lemon dances was recently passed by the House, but unfortunately, the provision was stripped-out of the teacher tenure reform package adopted by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The House-passed version would have given a school principal the power to refuse to place a teacher assigned to his or her school, if the teacher is rated “ineffective” under a new rating system the legislation would create. In addition, if none of the schools in the area wanted the ineffective teacher, the individual would be put on unpaid leave. Presumably to start preparing a resume’, hopefully sent to potential employers other than schools.

In other words, the House bill would have eliminated altogether the conditions responsible for both New York’s rubber rooms and Michigan’s lemon dances. However, when invited to concur with this reform, the Republican-controlled Michigan Senate declined. The provision was missing from the version of bill reported by the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair.

Pavlov himself probably is not to blame, however, since he wanted substantially more reform; after the bills were passed he told the Gongwer news service his preference would be to repeal the tenure law altogether: “It was very complicated, very costly and it protected teachers that weren't effective."

Some revisions to Michigan's teacher tenure law were ultimately adopted by both bodies, and are now awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature. They appear to offer ineffective teachers somewhat less protection than before, and may make firing them somewhat less expensive. They contain less reform than what was originally proposed, and much less than Pavlov’s ideal of total repeal. “Rubber rooms” are probably less likely, but principals who must accept “ineffective” teachers will nevertheless have fewer and worse options than if the Senate had accepted this House provision — the “dance of the lemons” may still go on.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.