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To guide new math teachers, a program creates a warning list

A teacher training program is warning its recruits to stay away from certain New York City schools, according to a list obtained by GothamSchools.

The list, compiled by Math for America and sent to its fellows, includes a mix of new schools created under Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and schools that have been troubled for years. Math for America is a program that recruits and trains people who are talented at math to teach in inner-city schools.

Many of the schools are brand new and some, such as the three small schools in the Lafayette High School complex, opened to replace schools the Department of Education decided to close. Others, such as International Leadership Charter School and Acorn High School for Social Justice, have undergone jarring leadership changes. None of them are among the 19 schools the city wants to begin phasing out this year.

Called the “School Awareness List,” the list of nearly 20 schools is part of Math for America’s effort to retain the teachers it trains by ensuring they end up in schools with supportive administrations. Though the name easily could be a euphemism for a black list, fellows are not prohibited from taking jobs at the schools.

“It’s a guiding list,” said Math for America Vice President Lee Umphrey. “It’s based on concerns and feedback that we’ve received and it makes it easier for our fellows to make a more thoughtful decision if they want to teach someplace.”

Update (7/1/10): The program’s new director Kara Stern sent us this statement:

The Schools Awareness List serves as a heads-up on a broad range of issues. While some schools are there because Math for America fellows have experienced some sort of problem, generally administrative, other schools appear on the list because they have alternative programming. For example, they are Regents-exempt, or have a block schedule, or a project-based learning model, as with the Expeditionary Learning Schools.

If fellows consider working at any of the schools on the list, Math for America offers to connect them with the fellow who first reported the problem.

Most of the schools on the “Awareness List” are there because of administrative issues, Umphrey said.

Other organizations keep track of schools where their members have bad experiences. The city’s teachers union has a “Principals in Need of Improvement” campaign that details principals’ alleged indiscretions in the union’s internal newspaper. Teach for America will not place its corps members in certain schools where it has chosen to severe ties — East New York Preparatory Charter School could soon become an example of this.

The city’s job shortage has resulted in some fellows taking positions in schools they’d been warned against, Umphrey said. With the hiring freeze still firmly in place and 50 new fellows on track to enter the schools full-time next year, prospective teachers can’t be too choosy, he said.