MEDIA WATCH: New Yorker libels against teachers corrected from London... British newspaper corrects USA teacher bashing hysteria about so-called 'Rubber Rooms'

For the past several months, following the publication of a lurid teacher bashing article in The New Yorker by Stephen Brill, corporate "school reform" pundits have been bemoaning the fact that school boards can't fire teachers easily, and that many teachers are left in what are derisively called "rubber rooms" while their cases are adjudicated. The term "Rubber Room" to describe the locations where teachers accused of misconduct are assigned pending investigation was first used in Chicago by Paul Vallas, the first "Chief Executive Officer" of a public school and the first schools chief in the USA to be appointed at the beginning of mayoral control. Like many of the terms utilized to promote corporate "school reform," "Rubber Room" — whether used by Vallas in Chicago in the 1990s or by The New Yorker and New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein during the Aughts — is part of a carefully constructed propaganda campaign against veteran teachers.

The toxic "Rubber Room" story, once it achieved prominence in The New Yorker (August 31, 2009), then made the rounds of the right wing and corporate pundits. Anyone who wants to Google "Rubber Room" can see the results from the past six months. The original story can be found at

One interesting example of the dishonesty of New Yorker reporting on that story is contained in an almost invisible correction they published four months after the original story. The correction, published in December, stated that one-twentieth of one percent of New York City teachers were in 'Rubber Rooms' — but in the original Brill report that is still being quoted by the teacher bashers, Brill said that "one half of one percent" were in the so-called "Rubber Rooms."

Then, with the new year and the new decade, a surprising news outlet, the Financial Times, gave one of the "Rubber Room" teachers a voice.

Full disclosure: During the month following the filing of the million dollar lawsuit against me and Substance (February 1999), I was in the Chicago Board of Education's 'Rubber Room' (so named by then CEO Paul Vallas), while the Board prepared the case by means of which they would suspend me without pay from my teaching job at Chicago's Bowen High School and, ultimately, fire me and end my teaching career both in Chicago and via a blacklist that extends across the Chicago area. While some of the teachers relegated to "rubber room" status are accused of serious misconduct (and in any system with 46,000 workers, anything is possible), as many as half are in that status because they are, in effect, political prisoners. At no time during my incarceration in Chicago's 'Rubber Room' (called 'Camp Beverly after the guy who supervised it, a principal named Weldon Beverly) was I accused of anything that had anything to do with bad teaching. I had been sued (for $1 million) for publishing the CASE tests (after they had been administered) in the January 1999 edition of Substance to show, with full proof, how stupid Paul Vallas's testing policies were.

In order to suppress that critique, Vallas, along with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, created a "copyright infringement" case against me and Substance, sued me for $1 million (ultimately, $1.4 million) and got the sanction of reactionary federal courts (finally, Richard Posner of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) to legitimize their "copyright infringement" claims against teacher resistance to stupid testing programs.

I haven't done much research on Chicago's political prisoners lately, but anyone who wants to write these stories up for Substance will be welcome. In Chicago, as in most cities where "accountability" and corporate "school reform" reign, the wealthy and the powerful are accountable to no one as they oversee the most corrupt programs and personnel in the history of US public education.

It's not surprising that a small bit of truth about the "Rubber Room" slanders has to be published in Great Britain, not in the USA.

The following is what was published in England on January 3, 2010. Maybe the worm is turning.

Rubber Rooms in Financial Times of London, Date: Sunday, January 3, 2010, 1:07 AM, Breaking Education News, The Financial Times of London - starts the New Year by publishing an Exclusive "Rubber Room" Interview

David Pakter, Former 'Teacher of the Year' and his Attorney, Dr. Joy Hochstadt, Esq. - battle the NYC Dept of Education in Federal Court, as one of the world's most respected newspapers challenges the International Press to shine a light on New York's infamous Rubber Rooms.

The Financial Times of London, Magazine Saturday January 2, 2010, First Person: David Pakter, As told to Cian Traynor, in London, Published: January 2 2010 00:42 | Last updated: January 2 2010 00:42.

When I began teaching in New York City 37 years ago, if you were reported for serious misconduct, you were sent to a Board of Education office until the matter was resolved. But as the system grew, removing teachers from the classroom became standard for even the most trivial offence. The board’s offices got so crowded they began leasing buildings around the city to use as “reassignment centres”, nicknamed “rubber rooms”.

As many as 800 to 1,000 teachers are in rubber rooms on any given day; it’s an academic Guantánamo Bay. Many go stir-crazy. Brooklyn’s Chapel Street rubber room is huge but so crowded that people are almost falling out of the windows.

When I was first sent to one of these rubber rooms, it took me six months to establish what the complaints were. Meanwhile, like everyone else, I turned up every day, kept the same hours and received my salary. But there was nothing to do except wait. It’s known as constructive termination. In the worst rubber rooms, there are people who’ve been there for up to five years.

When I started teaching in New York City, I worked at a school that was one of the jewels in the crown of the school system. As the years went by, the curriculum was whittled down. We taught four languages when I started, but gradually it became just another fifth-rate school. Eventually, Spanish was the only foreign language taught – in a school where most kids are Hispanic.

I began teaching medical illustration as part of my art course and tried to attract the most gifted kids. I wanted to fill in the gaps and eventually I was teaching them about opera, ballet, philosophy and astronomy. I devoted the last 10 minutes of each day to French – I bought the books myself.

Word got around and other students wanted to learn French. Parents were calling the school. It was an unworkable situation and I was ordered to stick to the medical illustration. Somehow I’d gone from winning a teacher-of-the-year award to being a thorn in the side of the school. One of the other things I argued about was music provision – all schools must have one music teacher by law.

In 2004, term had just started when I saw a woman setting up a music room. I assumed that my complaining had paid off, but the class was for the adjacent primary school – they were expanding into our building. I couldn’t believe it. I filmed the class, with the teacher’s permission, to document the fact that kids from another school were being taught a subject in the place where our own students were denied it. The next day I was handed a letter telling me “pending an investigation following an allegation made against you, you are to report to a temporary reassignment centre until further notice”.

I finally discovered that the reasons for my being sent to the rubber room were “fundraising activities and collection of money from students”. The allegation was thrown out, but the board of education has a right to send you for a psychiatric exam regardless. It took me a year to force the city to agree to an impartial medical arbitration. I was vindicated but by then everything I had built was torn apart. There was no one to take my place and, from what I’ve heard, some of my pupils never fulfilled their promise.

I was sent to a new school as a day-to-day substitute but soon they pulled me out again. It took a year before I found out what the new charges were:

-bringing plants to school without permission and giving watches I had designed myself to students on the honour roll — which constituted promotion of a private business. But the kids wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy them themselves.

I’ve been assigned to a rubber room in Harlem for the past two years — with no available drinking water, no natural light, no plants and poor ventilation — just waiting to clear my name.


January 10, 2010 at 1:05 AM

By: Jim Vail


Just one word - Incredible.

April 7, 2011 at 12:34 PM

By: Walter Blair

Can we sue the Board for not giving us a speedy investigation?

I have been place in a Chicago Public School Rubber Room for almost 6 months. I got put here for confiscation a box of bullets that I thought were a box of staples. The only thing I did wrong was not to inform the office immediately. The reason being was that I wanted to examine the box myself, right after one of the students picked-up the box and realized that the contents of the box contained actual miniture bullets. My principal took this opportunity to notify the law department because she has a personal vendetta against me. After that I was given a letter stating for me to be reassigned to the Rubber Room, while I wait the outcome of the investigation. I guess my principal was hoping the bullets could be tied to me, but I did take them from the child and put them in my desk drawer for further examination. I should have believedthe kid, and not had gone with my inicial thought that he was showing me only staples.

June 8, 2012 at 10:55 PM

By: David Schofield

Greetings, Mr. Blair

Mr Blair , what happened to you was ridiculous . In Chicago we have had a hand gun ban for how many years ?? .. How the hell were you to know they were 'real bullets'? It was a simple mistake that anyone could have and probably would have made . . I mean who in the hell thinks that boxes of bullets are just left lying around in an elementary school ! You were , according to my kid , very well respected by the kids that you taught .. and how you were treated over this is pure BS ..

It was my kid who handed the dammed bullets in ... had he known that you were going to be so poorly treated .... he wouldn't have bothered .. Hope you are well .. and best regards ..


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