Monday, August 24, 2009

Steven Brill Leads Major Assault on ATRs and Rubber Room

Whenever I have had the opportunity at PEP meetings where I could address Joel Klein directly, I have pointed out that as long as even one teacher was hounded into the rubber room for political reasons, he would have more difficulty in removing even those teachers who should be removed. I called on him to monitor these political cases carefully to protect the integrity of a process to remove teachers who should be removed. And let's make no mistake about it, there are teachers who should not be teaching. I always make the point that if teachers were given power over running the schools, these people wouldn't last long at all.

NOTE: Check comments section where comments on the article from listserves are inserted.

Was Steven Brill commissioned as a hit man on the rubber room and ATRs?

A long article in the New Yorker by Steven Brill (posted on Norms Notes Biased and One Sided Article on Rubber Room and ATRs) goes after the rubber room people and ATRs. Brill uses selective interviews with principal Anthony Lombardi and Joel Klein with comments thrown in by Randi Weingarten.

The article is clearly designed as the opening salvo in a PR blitz to pressure the UFT to give up some protections in the current contract negotiations. The problem for the UFT is how to do it without causing members to go crazy. One way out for the UFT is to put up a weak fight to keep tenure law from being weakened by claiming they couldn't stop the state legislature from wanting to get some of the Obama/Duncan stimulus money. The contract supersedes the state law I believe and was already weakened in previous negotiations (thus, teachers have less protections that they would under current state law).

We have been predicting the coming assault on the ATRs and rubber room. We laid out the plan for ATRs over the weekend: Creating ATRs a Key Part of Privatization Plan pointing to the various phases. Though expensive, Bloomklein made an initial investment by agreeing to pay ATRs for a period of time with the goal of using the press and public opinion to force the UFT to give up something in exchange for raises.

Clearly, Brill was allowed access to rubber rooms. (When filmmaker Jeremy Garrett of "The Rubber Room" movie attempted to enter Brooklyn's Chapel St.rubber room he was arrested.) He selectively interviewed certain people who could help make his case. He even attended an open hearing. Note that he did not attend the most famous and often advertised open hearing, that of David Pakter.

Let's look at the writer who is making these judgements.
Brill (I'm assuming this is the guy, but correct me if I am wrong) himself has had some controversy. Hamilton Nolan wrote this past June in The Persistent Failure of Steven Brill. Check the site directly for the links, but here is the text.

Steven Brill has a reputation for being a media wise man—a deep-thinking mogul who's always spotting the opportunities of The Future. Which is kind of strange, since the majority of his projects have been ostentatious failures.

Brill's latest company, "Clear," which was supposed to save rich people a half hour standing in security lines at airports in exchange for $128 a year, is shutting down. Let's do a quick and dirty balance sheet of Brill's successes and failures—keeping in mind that to do your best is all your mom really asks.


The American Lawyer: Brill launched what would become the nation's leading legal magazine in 1979. This is not an unqualified success, though, since American Lawyer Media (now Incisive Media) is having problems right now.

Court TV: Brill created the network (now truTV) in 1991. After receiving a huge popularity boost from the OJ Simpson trial, it was sold it to Time Warner in 1997. For which Brill got a tidy sum.

Emily Brill: Steven's daughter, the ultimate narrator.


Brill's Content: Launched in 1998, this mediacentric mag was supposed to capitalize on America's insatiable thirst for news about the news! Turned out not that many people really care about the news about the news. Not enough to pay money, at least. Stopped publishing in 2001. A website selling "a variety of content ranging from thesis papers to ebooks." Closed in 2001. The legendary media site that launched the careers of many top media reporters and also failed to make any money. The magazine version of Inside was merged with Brill's Content, and the website was part of a convoluted plan with Primedia to corner the market on media trade publications, but the whole thing was shuttered in 2001.

Clear: In the post-9/11 world, Brill noticed, airport security sure was a hassle. People would pay to be "verified" beforehand so they could breeze right through! Right? 165,000 people did, reportedly, and Clear raised more than $100 million from investors, but now it's dead, unable to afford to keep going.

Brill also wrote a couple books which didn't sell all that well and a column for Newsweek, but you can judge those on their own merits. He's not out of the game, though—his other ongoing venture is Journalism Online, a company that plans to help various magazines and newspapers charge readers for online access. Bet on it!

Hmmm. Steven Brill with a persistent record of failure, now reduced to writing about rubber rooms and ATRs.

If they had rubber rooms for the things people like Brill do, he'd be writing about himself.

The hearing Brill doesn't want to cover:

3020-a Teacher Trial of David Pakter

Continues Sept 8, 2009

49 Chambers Street, 6th Floor, 10 AM
Please request Hearing Room of the Hon. Douglas J. Bantle, Esq.

Thanks to Jeff Kaufman for posting the article.


  1. I wrote to the New Yorker before noticing you put up this post, which is very informative (as usual).

    To the Editor:

    Steven Brill's article on the Rubber Room sounds authoritative and thorough, until the paragraphs on the Absent Teacher Reserve. To say that "most" excessed teachers "quickly" find new jobs and that those who remain ATRs "refuse" to take another job shows how receptive people are to the DoE's spin. In fact, there are no statistics out there for any of these things.

    When Joel Klein changed how teacher salaries are paid, it made economical and administrative sense for principals to hire people with low seniority. Not only are new teachers cheaper, but without tenure they're more manipulatable and easier to terminate. What is not being reported is that higher paid veteran teachers who apply for jobs rarely get even a single interview, even when they've been rated Satisfactory their entire career and frequently enough been considered excellent educators. I have spoken to many secretaries who say their principals do not even want to see these applications, just discard them (two for the price of one, and all).

    Moreover, there is no way, as Brill claims, that any ATR offered a job can "refuse" to take it. If a principal wants to hire one of these people, that person must take the job or resign. In the past couple of years, the DoE has been avoiding its contractual duty to work towards placing excessed teachers, for they rarely send people out to interview at another school as they had done in the past. Many think their passivity on this issue is a strategic maneuver, for if you want to trim the top salaries off the budget, let the ATR group grow. The PR team can then easily convince the public that it's somehow the teachers' fault they've not been placed.

    Brill seems to have been persuaded as much himself. He should have been far been more cautious about the views of The New Teacher Project, which works "with [their] district partners to identify schools that have chronic teacher vacancies and establish efficient teacher hiring procedures." TNTP doesn't do that for free, and it's very much in their financial interest to make sure ATRs never get a chance at vacancies.

    How much of Steven Brill's article is free of DoE manipulation is hard to know.

  2. A good portion of the ATR is now comprised of former rubber room inmates. By blurring the two and neglecting to mention the innocence of these rubber room graduates, Brill, Klein and others can dampen enthusiasm for tenure protection...even at the very union employed to protect these rights.

  3. Once again Klein has someone to support his effort in finding excuses to terminate the ATRs and RubberRoom teachers. Those teachers will evetually be Brillcremed!

  4. ______________________________


    You noted:

    "He selectively interviewed certain people who could help make his case. He even attended an open hearing. Note that he did not attend the most famous and often advertised open hearing, that of David Pakter."

    EdNotes readers should be alerted to the fact that my Open To The Public NYS 3020-a Teacher Trial recommences on Sept 8.

    So far my exceedingly brilliant NYSUT attorney, Christopher M. Callagy, Esq. has done a splendid job of cruxifying every single DOE stooge witness who has lied while under Sworn Oath to tell the Truth.

    The one single DOE witness who refused to lie will no doubt pay a heavy price for not "towing the DOE line".

    It should be noted that in the context of 3020-a Hearings no witness is ever held accountable for NOT testifying truthfully even when caught in the most egregious lies.

    One more reason I am litigating my case in the Federal Courts where committing perjury by a Witness comes at a high cost.

    Perhaps Mr Brill, although apparently not that brilliant himself, may find it illuminating to observe how a truly brilliant attorney exposes the DOE case against me for what it really represents.

    That is to say a five year war of vicious Whistle-blower retaliation perpetrated against a teacher who believed in the dictum:

    "If you see something wrong, speak out and report it."

    Not just because you are Legally mandated and required to do so, but because when children's lives are at stake, it is the only right thing to do.

    3020-a Teacher Trial of David Pakter

    Continues Sept 8, 2009

    49 Chambers Street, 6th Floor, 10 AM
    Please request Hearing Room of the Hon. Douglas J. Bantle, Esq.

  5. I urge everyone on ICE list to read the New Yorker article which Jeff has posted.

    It is a hack piece in a liberal magazine noted for investigative journalism on preemptive war and torture overseas but apparently blind to an unfolding fraud in NYC's schools.

    Author Steven Brill repeats most of the main arguments that will be used in a nationally coordinated campaign to bring NYS and the UFT into conformity with "Race to the Top".

    He might might as well be screaming "rape!" to instill the sense of urgency and the threat that the ATRs, reassigned teachers and the UFT contract (all 126 pages) poses to the children and the taxpayers.

    Is this the same Steven Brill who was born in Queens in 1950, ran a watchdog journal called the American Lawyer for 10 years, seems to have made and lost a few fortunes and now is a pen for hire to the corporate deformers? I wonder if any editor at The New Yorker asked him about his new found professional interest in education? Has he ever met Chancellor Klein or Mayor Bloomberg by any chance before he began to investigate the "rubber rooms"?

    Hired pens such as Brill offer a window into the prevailing mood at corporate ed reform headquarters. Albany and the UFT contract are the battlegrounds. The rubber room is the union's weakest link and sure to evoke public sympathy so strike a blow here and send the Unity managers scurrying back to their members to explain why we have to give up some of our colleagues now to slake our all powerful oligarchy's thirst for more. If the officials of the "mighty mighty union" are mentally beaten before they even take to the field, victory is nearly assured. It the union officials can't sell this, then have the legislature and Govenor do it to them, for the children of course.

    We see how the UFT officials run from the reassignment center issue. The corporate deformers see it also. Brill tries to nail Weingarten but she ducks. Mulgrew is absent altogether. I've heard much more articulate and stronger defenses from rank and file members than I have from UFT spokespersons. I hope that some members who have been most active on this issue will write to the editors of the New Yorker and circulate their remarks to all listserves and blogs, including the somniferous Edwize. At least offer the UFT suits some talking points if they can't come up with any on their own.

    So the corporate school deformers have most of the media well in hand but this is not the decisve thing in spite of what Bloomberg et al believe. The failure or success of their next offensive depends largely on the organization and mobilization of the rank and file and the growing collaboration between parents and educators (or lack thereof).

    The first order of business of the so called negotiation committee meting this week should be a mass mobilization of the membership or you might as well be planning a victory celebration for "Race to the Top".. Fix the schools don't close them! Stop forcing charters into existing negihborhood schools! Hire the ATRs and close the reassignment centers now! Merit pay is a fraud so end it, now!

    How big we can't say but the corporate defomers are pushing their next wave in our direction. Reasonable defensive measures may be advocated for and put in place now. The deformers seems to be looking for some combination of contractual concessions mixed in with legislative initiatives. I think our new local president believes that he is on a straight line to winning election and need not concern himself too greatly with the ATR and reassigned teachers.

    I hope the election campaign will draw members attention and build up our defenses and ties with parents and the communities of color.

    The article makes it plain that the NYC teachers contract and the UFT remain important obstacles to the corporate 'reform'. Important to bear in mind that despite our criticism of the Unity caucus officials, the union is much bigger than the suits at the top.

  6. This is from a current rubber room inmate, doing her second tour of torment there. I am, as are other teachers, subject to a multi-pronged attack:

    1. "Investigation/s"

    2. "Attendance record" attack

    3. An amalgam of charges around "fitness to teach" - unclear now, probably both physical and mental

    4. My first ever yearly "U" rating after 10 years of "S" ratings, even after a former rubber room stint.

    This "U" rating was given to me despite rave reviews about my pedagogy and behavior with students - BY MY IMMEDIATE SUPERVISOR.

    Perhaps fortunately for us, more and more citizens of this country, citizens of all races, religions, social/economic status, are recognizing that this assault on education is an assault on the life of every citizen.

    I have been reading and listening to people as different as Alan Keyes (black, politically conservative, former diplomat . . . one superbly articulate and brilliant thinker) and Larry Flynt (anyone not know who he is?!) come to the same conclusions about the systematic and relentless destruction of this nation.

    It is imperative that the citizenry's ability to think, reason, analyze, evaluate, debate, read, write, and communicate be annihilated in order for those with obscene "wealth" and "power" to tame us. To continue their enslavement of us for their own materialistic, completely destructive ends.

    Growing numbers of intelligent and reasonable people in this country are expressing their understanding that education, like health care, is under vicious and brutal, ongoing and incremental attack.

    Growing numbers of parents, teachers, community groups in our own city recognize what the bloomklein nightmare machine is doing to our students, our teachers, our lives.

    I am hopeful that the mushrooming activism against the destruction of the country's largest public school system will help reverse the attacks on people like me - teachers who are rubberized, marginalized, threatened.

    If we keep ourselves informed about both events and motivations in our current increasingly totalitarian environment (evidenced by the kind of lies and vitriol vomited up by the likes of brill), we will be able to effectively challenge, resist and reverse our destruction.


  7. The New Yorker has a consistent blind spot in its coverage of education.

    The long article on Bloomberg in a recent issue mentions, though only briefly in passing, the supposed success of his schools takeover. I'm in San Francisco and not qualified or knowledgeable enough to respond myself, but I'd hope they'd get some letters challenging that supposed received wisdom.

    A large New Yorker article of a few months ago on Green Dot schools
    similarly demonstrated big blind spots.

    This is a longstanding tradition. Some years ago, elite and normally competent New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert did a gushing piece on Advantage Schools, a now-long-defunct for-profit charter schools operator based in Boston. Shortly after the New Yorker piece, the Boston Globe did a long Page 1 investigation on problem- and fraud-riddled Advantage, and shortly after that, Advantage collapsed.

    There isn't really a protocol in journalism for handling a massive "oopsie, we got the whole thing wrong -- never mind..." screwup like that, though you'd think they might reconsider and try to be more skeptical and better-informed after such an embarrassment.

    So, for whatever reason, coverage of education that really just doesn't get it seems to be a longstanding hallmark of the New Yorker.

  8. It is still beyond belief that the UFT has not gathered statistics on all serving rubber room inmates to refute charges that most are there for sex or corporal punishment issues. These statistics would certainly refute Brill's article. Randi could have quoted these statistics in her comments.

    Her second talking point should be a list of the folks charged with the most frivolous (non) offenses. The weird pedagogical criticisms, the vindictive principal issues, the donated potted plants, the petty lateness and medical related issues , etc etc. This could easily describe over a hundred of the rubber room inmates. These, strung together, would form a remarkable response to folks like Brill.

    At the same time her description of the otherworldly pay-to-play system of irrelevant fines and settlements would also address the pettiness of charges against the rubber room detainees and would spark the question in the reader's mind: Why aren't these folks teaching"? as opposed to Brills implied question: "Why are we paying criminals to sit and do nothing"?

    If the UFT does not see the mounting campaign against its teachers (rubber room detainees... ATR's...vocal chapter leaders...veteran teachers... tenured teachers... eventually all unionized teachers) they are willfully blind.

    If they do not head off this anti-teacher rubber room publicity campaign at the pass they are, quite simply, not doing their job.

  9. Anon 6:39: it's not that they can't see what's going on. They collaborated.
    They negotiated a crap grievance system and a hugely deficient arbitration procedure. I've also heard more than once that UFT reps go around saying that 99% of the reassigned teachers are "guilty." Has anyone ever heard them say that?

  10. Very disappointed of Steven Brill's article which is so one sided. As a African American himself, he knows well that the portraited villains have often been the hapless victims. However, I am not surprised to see the greed easily overpowers a sense of history.

  11. I will give you an outsider's opinion (I'm from Australia and I guess you don't get more "outside" than that).

    I read the initial article on the New Yorker website. It's a long article but written well enough that each of the 7 pages flew by. I come away from it thinking that the New York School System is in crisis and shaking my head in one of those "Only in America" kind of ways.

    I did a Google search with the title to see if there were any forums where the article was being discussed and found this. When clicking on the link I was hoping to see lots of comments giving me a sense of the other side of the argument.

    If what I read here is truly representative of the majority of New York teachers then you've already lost.

    I can't remember being so flabbergasted by so many paranoid responses to such an article. Blatant attacks on the author rather than the content do your cause no end of harm and certainly make you less likely to be viewed as any sort of victim

  12. Thanks for the response from Oz. Since you are not a regular reader of this blog, there is some context to the responses for people who follow things like the Pakter case.

    It's not clear what "The other side of the argument" means.

    Many of the responses here are actually from RR victims so naturally there is what you would call a paranoid response and some level of self defense.

    What has been pointed out is that the author selected certain cases and ignored the ones that would weaken his case. Even the one he chose to "make the other side" - the Brooklyn Tech teacher - had a caveat if underhand "guilty."

    In fact the rubber rooms exist because Joel Klein needs them to exist as part of the broad attack on the union. There is no excuse to have people there for so long and most cases can be expedited. They are a political cause for those attacking the unions and they are appearing in every city.

    What used to happen in all the years past? Teachers were placed in an innocuous location and few people noticed. The number of political cases weaken the attack against teachers who should be removed, something I pointed out.

    As for attacks on the author, Steve Brill, they are totally legitimate to show if there is a dog in the race. Brill has many dogs in the race and there wasn't a shot at gettign this one fair and balanced.


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