Fired Conservative Kansas Teacher Missed His Chance at "Rubber Rooms"

For teachable purposes, I like clear contrasts. You know: Black vs. white, Up vs. down, Chocolate ice cream vs. broccoli. But what about the world of education reform — specifically, teacher tenure? Two stories in particular popped up within hours of each other, and what a contrast they present.

First, there’s this news from our neighbor to the east:

A Kansas teacher says he was wrongfully terminated for his conservative views.

Tim Latham has been teaching history and U.S. Government for over 19 years. But after teaching for just one year in the Lawrence School District in Lawrence, Kansas, Latham says his contract was not renewed because school officials did not like his conservative views — particularly a teacher website that Latham hosted and paid for himself. A teacher coach confronted him on that issue.

If this indeed proves to be true, how sad it would be to see a teacher not only get persecuted for his unorthodox conservative patriotic views (unfortunately, it happens more than you may think) but also lose his job over it. He isn’t working for a private school. He’s working for a public school funded by taxpayer dollars!

Latham has filed a grievance and said he plans to continue fighting the job action. It will be interesting to see what the union will do — if anything — on his behalf. Maybe Mr. Latham just picked the wrong place to teach. Or the wrong reason to get the axe.

Now for comparison, let’s go to this Associated Press story that appeared in the Denver Post:

Hundreds of New York City public school teachers accused of offenses ranging from insubordination to sexual misconduct are being paid their full salaries to sit around all day playing Scrabble, surfing the Internet or just staring at the wall, if that’s what they want to do.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its “rubber rooms”—off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues—pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.

Wow. Career aspirations for the chronically lazy.

The existence of the New York City teacher rubber rooms isn’t exactly breaking news. For example, John Stossel covered it a few years ago. But it’s still hard to get over how ridiculous — not to mention costly — it is.

Though on a smaller scale, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow a few years ago exposed a practice in Colorado’s largest school district that placed an additional costly burden on getting rid of some ineffective teachers and ultimately helped put an end to it.

Reformers need to redouble their efforts to inject some sanity into the teacher dismissal process.