Thinking Citizen Blog — The Lemon Dance, the Rubber Room, Teacher Quality Matters

Thinking Citizen Blog — Friday is Education and Education Policy Day

Today’s Topic — The Lemon Dance, the Rubber Room, Teacher Quality Matters

“The Lemon Dance” is the process by which school principals transfer incompetent teachers to each other at the end of the year in the vain hope that the transfer will change them from incompetent to competent. The incompetent inevitably end up in school districts with the neediest children. This is an utter disaster. The reason? Union contracts. Incompetent teachers are impossible to fire. (See first two links below.) “The Rubber Room” was made famous by a New Yorker article in 2009. “Rubber rooms” were rooms scattered across New York City where incompetent teachers did nothing all day, collecting full salary and benefits. Why? Incompetent teachers are impossible to fire. But the quality of teachers matter a lot. And if there is to be equality of opportunity it is certainly the case that the system for the allocation of teachers matters. The current system is rotten to the core, but the political power of the unions is such that is that the status quo is likely to continue indefinitely. The film “Waiting for Superman” highlights the work of Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone (photo below). Perhaps the most important film of the last 50 years. The greatest disappointment for me of the presidency of Barack Obama was his failure to follow through on his promise to roll out the Harlem Children’s Zone model across the country. The reason? The power of teacher unions. Today, a few related notes. This is an incredibly complex problem. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.

THE RUBBER ROOM (2010) — has anything really changed? have things gotten worse? better?

1. The film documents the daily routines of teachers accused of misconduct or incompetence. Several days, weeks, months, or even years are spent in these “Kafkaesque” rubber rooms waiting for some kind of resolution; the filmmakers estimate that the average wait time is three years, but cited cases lasting as long as ten years.”

2. During this time in “exile”, the teachers receive their full pay and benefit packages at the cost of up to 65 million dollars per year to the city, spending each day reading, playing cards, balancing checkbooks, sleeping, or simply staring blankly at the walls. Interviewed teachers from the rubber room describe the high tensions that develop between teachers angry at their inexplicable situations that curiously lead to a “prison-like” environment in which teachers largely separate themselves into fiercely territorial cliques, sometimes even resulting in physical altercations.”

3. “The rubber room is shown as a way that administrators are able to be rid of teachers by circumventing the notoriously difficult process of removing a tenured teacher. Reasons that teachers are sent to the rubber room range from accusations as extreme as physical and sexual abuse of students to as minor as excessive tardiness or even simple personality conflicts with administrators, and yet these groups of teachers are shown to be lumped together in the same situation with egregiously delayed hearings, often without evidence of any misconduct, sometimes even going without knowledge of what the alleged misconduct actually is, for up to three years.”

NB: “Furthermore, the film shows some students boasting about having learned to take advantage of this system after realizing that they have the power to remove teachers almost at will. This upset in the balance of power, they show, can have drastic effects on the teachers’ ability to do their jobs and effectively teach while maintaining order in the classrooms.”


1. “We estimate that if you move from an average teacher to an excellent teacher, each student gains an average of $1,000 per year in earnings,” Chetty says. “If you add that up over a student’s working life, and adjust for inflation and interest rates, you get a total lifetime gain of around $16,000 per child.”

2. “And how do excellent teachers create these long-term advantages? Chetty suspects the answer lies in so-called “non-cognitive measures.”

3. “When the STAR students reached the eighth grade, their teachers evaluated them on attributes such as manners, the ability to focus, and self-discipline. Students who had the best kindergarten teachers excelled at these measures, even in eighth grade.”

NB: “This is a little speculative, but I think it’s consistent with the evidence: A good kindergarten teacher raises your kindergarten test scores by teaching you skills like how to be a disciplined student,” Chetty says. “Those skills don’t necessarily show up in later academic tests, but they end up having a big pay-off in the long run.”


1. “Teachers’ job satisfaction is at its lowest level in 50 years, with 42 percent of educators saying the stress of their job is worth it, compared to 81 percent in the 1970s.”

2. “Interest in the teaching profession among high school seniors and college freshman is at its lowest point in the last 50 years, dropping 50 percent since the 1990s and 38 percent since 2010.

3. “The number of new entrants into teaching has decreased by one-third over the past decade, with the number of newly licensed teachers dropping from 320,000 in 2006 to 215,000 in 2020. In 2006, the number of newly licensed teachers made up 22 percent of total college graduates, compared to 2020, when they made up 11 percent of college graduates.

How Bad Teachers Keep Their Jobs — The Lemon Dance

Dance of the Lemons in American Public Schools — Thomas Sowell #sowell #shorts #education #school

The Rubber Room

Waiting for “Superman” — Wikipedia

Geoffrey Canada — Wikipedia

Measuring the Impacts of Teachers II: Teacher Value-Added and Student Outcomes in Adulthood

NYC promised to ban teacher ‘rubber rooms’ — they went underground instead

The Rubber Room — Wikipedia

The Dance of the Lemons

What is the Dance of the Lemons? (with picture)

The Status of the Teaching Profession Is at a 50-Year Low. What Can We Do About It?


“You’ve got to continue to grow, or you’re just like last night’s corn bread — stale and dry.” - Loretta Lynn


PDF with headlines — Google Drive


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, 11/17/20


Please share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to education or education policy. Or the coolest thought however half-baked you had. Or the coolest, most important thing you learned in your life related to education or education policy that the rest of us may have missed. Or just some random education-related fact that blew you away.

This is your chance to make some one’s day. Or to cement in your own mind something that you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something that is dear to your heart.



Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.

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John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.