- - Monday, September 4, 2017


For most of America’s youth, today is the first day back to school following summer vacation. The annual dread of this day should be mitigated somewhat in the Washington D.C. suburb of Silver Spring, where longtime teacher John Vigna was recently sentenced to 48 years in prison for repeated sexual abuse of his students.

Cases of teacher-student sexual abuse are all too common. Hundreds occur nationwide each year. What’s worse is that teachers often demonstrate warning signs of perversion before they offend — or before their offenses amplify — but cannot be fired because of union protection rules.

In Vigna’s case, sexual abuse complaints were lodged against him as far back as 2008. In 2013, a top district official called his conduct “indefensible, inappropriate and intolerable.” But he was allowed to stay in the classroom.

In New York City, where there have been about 1,000 complaints since 2009 of “inappropriate relationships,” the American Federation of Teachers and its president, Randi Weingarten, have backed a bizarre solution for incompetent teachers: Pay them not to teach. These rejects are warehoused in so-called “rubber rooms” where they do menial work, play cards or sit around.

Why don’t they quit? Because they get paid an average of $94,000 a year. Until now. The New York Times reported last month that the city will start bouncing these folks out of Randi’s rubber rooms back into classrooms. It seems the city can’t afford to spend the annual $150 million on teachers not to teach. In the words of a Manhattan principle, the move puts “the worst teachers in the system into the schools that are struggling the most.” The obvious solution of firing these people never seems to be considered.

Prospective teachers are never graded on their sexual predilections and emotional intelligence. Granted, neither are most professionals. But here’s the difference: In other professions, you can fire someone who is emotionally impaired, unmotivated or sexually abusive. Teachers unions rarely allow firing. Several different analyses suggest only a couple of the roughly 75,000 New York City teachers are fired each year.

The rubber room announcement coincides with new data showing just how bad New York’s district schools really are. In New York City’s “Renewal Schools,” a program into which Mayor Bill de Blasio has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars, just 16 percent of students are proficient in English and 9 percent in math. At the New York charter school network Success Academy, which has similar student demographics, those figures are 84 percent and 95 percent, respectively.

The difference? Charter schools are not unionized. They can hire and fire based on competence in teaching. They can dismiss for deviant behaviors. And the comparative results are undeniable.

Recognizing the threat charter schools pose to their power and dues money, union bigwigs like Ms. Weingarten (annual compensation, $500,000) buy off politicians to hold the line on charter school expansion. According to Open Secrets, the two big teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, spent more than $50 million in the 2016 election cycle on politicians to protect their rule book and education system franchise.

Frustrated with this union-politician complex, Success Academy Chairman Dan Loeb recently posted on Facebook: “[H]ypocrites who pay fealty to powerful union thugs and bosses do more damage to people of color than anyone who has ever donned a hood.” Though inartfully stated, Mr. Loeb’s sentiment is correct. The biggest impediments to minority children getting the education they need to improve their life circumstances are teachers unions and the politicians on their payroll.

Predictably, Ms. Weingarten jumped on Mr. Loeb’s comment as a chance to change the conversation about incompetence to suggest that charter school supporters are racist. And a few of Weingarten’s sycophants, including Mr. De Blasio, jumped at the chance to kiss the union ring by piling on. Given the rubber room news, and the horrible education outcomes for kids in New York, Mr. De Blasio’s feigned outrage is particularly ironic.

Bottom line: Mr. Loeb’s personal funding generosity betters the lives of kids. Mr. De Blasio’s and Ms. Weingarten‘s, not so much.

Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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