The final installment of Joel Klein's weekly memo to principals

In a nostalgic final missive to city principals this week, outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein suggested three things to do once he’s gone.

He urged lawmakers to end the last-in first-out process of teacher layoffs, pushed for an end to the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, and underlined his belief in the importance of closing struggling schools.

Klein’s statement that “we have to eliminate the ATR pool” ratchets up the city’s position on the pool of teachers — city teachers who lose their positions, don’t find new ones, but stay on the city payroll anyway. Previously, the city has asked the union, in contract negotiations, to add a limit to the amount of time a teacher can spend in the reserve pool. That would make the pool smaller, but it would not cause it to disappear altogether.

Describing the costs of keeping those teachers on the city payroll as exceeding $100 million a year, Klein argues:

We cannot afford it, and it’s wrong to keep paying this money. It amounts to supporting more than a thousand teachers who either don’t care to, or can’t, find a job, even though our school system hires literally thousands of teachers each year. That’s money that could be spent on teachers that we desperately want and need.

Klein also describes teacher layoffs as a sure thing. “I wish it were otherwise, but the economics of our state and city make this virtually impossible to avoid,” he writes.

The Bloomberg administration has a history of being bullish on layoffs in order to push for the end of the state law regulating how teachers lose their jobs. Klein reiterates that case in his letter:

If we have layoffs, it’s unconscionable to use the last-hired, first-fired rule that currently governs. By definition, such a rule means that quality counts for zero. Our children cannot afford that kind of approach. They need the best teachers, not those who are longest serving. (If you had to have surgery, would you want the longest-serving surgeon or the best one?) This doesn’t mean that many of our longest-serving teachers aren’t among the best, but this is not an area for “group think.” We need individual determinations of teacher effectiveness to decide who stays and who doesn’t.

Klein also quoted his favorite T.S. Eliot poem, “Little Gidding,” excerpting four cryptic lines that seem to summarize his “odyssey” as something more complex than a straight line of a progress:

We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.

Other curious lines from the poem:

… Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. …

Klein has sent a memo to principals every week for years. Read the full letter here and below.

Joel Klein’s Last Letter to Principals