In a move that is hardly inspiring New York students to work hard and achieve greatness, the AP reports that you can now make $70,000 a year sitting around and doing nothing for eight hours a day. All you have to do is become an ineffective New York City public school teacher.

The city’s policy of paying teachers not to work is more than just a waste of money. It adds to the utter lack of accountability that plagues the system and undermines any reason to teach students well.

Because their union contract makes it extremely difficult to fire them, the teachers have been banished by the school system to its ‘rubber rooms’ — off-campus office space where they wait months, even years, for their disciplinary hearings.

The 700 or so teachers can practice yoga, work on their novels, paint portraits of their colleagues — pretty much anything but school work. They have summer vacation just like their classroom colleagues and enjoy weekends and holidays through the school year.”

New York City’s rubber rooms are costing taxpayers $65 million dollars a year. And they help explain why New York’s schools continue to under-perform, despite spending over $13,000 per student in 2007 – well above the national average of $8,700. The city’s graduation rate is just 55 percent.

This lack of results for excessively high education funding is hardly surprising considering how the city compensates its teachers, including those in the rubber room. Under the current pay system favored by unions, pay is “back-loaded,” meaning that teachers earn very little at the start of their careers and much more towards the end of their careers. Uniform raises – based not on merit but on longevity – provide little incentive for teachers to work hard, as excellence is not rewarded. In a system which fails to recognize achievement but rewards mediocrity, it is nearly impossible to attract the best and brightest teachers into the classroom.

This system is antithetical to improving educational quality.

The only people who benefit from the union contracts are the teachers themselves. And not all the teachers – only the ones who have been teaching for years and begun to reap the benefits of back-loaded pay and generous pensions.

Until we move away from a system of union-backed teachers and toward a competitive system which compensates teachers based on what their job performance merits, we will continue to see a profession plagued by the types of problems found in New York and American kids won’t get the quality education they deserve.