Jonah Goldberg

Brandi Scheiner believes she is a political prisoner. Held against her will in what is euphemistically dubbed a "rubber room," Scheiner, 56, likens her two-year captivity to being imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. Alas, it's unlikely the Red Cross will hear her case.

She's a New York City public school teacher who, like about 600 fellow NYC teachers, has been removed from the classroom for alleged incompetence or other charges that include being drunk in the classroom or molesting students.

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Scheiner, who makes more than $100,000 per year, nonetheless insists she is a prisoner of conscience forced to spend her workdays in the rubber room -- at full pay -- until the system can adjudicate her case. She cannot be fired, at least not without the school district spending gobs on legal fees, because she has tenure and her union, the United Federation of Teachers, would rather protect 1,000 lousy teachers than let one good teacher be fired unfairly.

So Scheiner and her rubber-roomies report for duty every school day and do nothing. They all get the usual vacations, including the entire summer off.

This is all according to Steven Brill in a blockbuster article in the Aug. 31 New Yorker about New York City's efforts to reform the public school system. Brill adds: "Because two percent of her salary is added to her pension for each year of seniority, a three-year stay in the Rubber Room will cost not only three hundred thousand dollars in salary but at least six thousand dollars a year in additional lifetime pension benefits."

Ever the martyr, Scheiner says she's "entitled to every penny of it."

She says that before New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools chief Joel Klein came along, "everyone knew that an incompetent teacher would realize it and leave on their own."

That's not how the unions see it. A principal of a Queens public school told Brill that Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, "would protect a dead body in the classroom. That's her job."

This is just a small illustration of a much larger mess. America's large school systems are a disaster.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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