ATR Exemption

Fariña: Low-performing ‘Renewal’ schools won’t be assigned educators from the Absent Teacher Reserve

PHOTO: Cassi Feldman
The group StudentsFirstNY staged a rally this summer to protest the city's plan to place educators in the Absent Teacher Research in schools with job openings.

When the city begins placing teachers without permanent positions in schools next week, there’s one place it won’t send them: low-performing schools in its “Renewal” turnaround program.

New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said on Thursday that the education department will not assign teachers from the controversial Absent Teacher Reserve to any of the 78 schools in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s high-profile Renewal program, which is intended to revamp struggling schools. The announcement seems to address some critics’ concern that those high-needs schools would be saddled with teachers that other principals had declined to hire.

Fariña also announced that no teachers in the reserve with a record of disciplinary problems will be placed in any schools.

“We are not putting people who have a record of not behaving in any school,” she told reporters during an unrelated press conference. “We are also very clearly asking everybody to be vetted by the principal.”

An education department spokesman later added that the department has “full discretion” to decide where to send teachers in the reserve, and that decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.

The reserve, commonly known as the ATR, is a pool of educators who don’t hold permanent positions because they face disciplinary or legal issues, or because their school declined in enrollment or closed.

Educators in the reserve typically serve as roving substitutes. But education department officials recently announced they would begin filling school positions that are vacant as of Oct. 15 with educators from the group — potentially even over the objections of principals. The assignments will last through the school year, and would become permanent if the teacher earns a positive evaluation.

Critics say the city’s plan will put sub-par teachers in the neediest schools, since those are also typically the hardest to staff.

Two weeks after the school year began, a Chalkbeat review of school vacancies revealed that four out of five school districts with the most postings were in the Bronx. At the same time, according to city figures, teachers from the reserve are typically rated less effective than the full body of teachers: Only 74 percent of teachers in the ATR received positive ratings in 2015-16, compared to 93 percent of all city teachers.

While the city tried to reassure parents and advocates that it will use “discretion” when placing teachers from the reserve, the chancellor’s comments went a step further. In an email, the department spokesman, Will Mantell, wrote that the chancellor’s comments were “further clarifications” of the city’s policy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that there are “very good teachers” within the ATR. He has pledged to cut the pool in half from more than 800 educators, which costs the city more than $150 million a year.

“We believe that there is now a real process in place to find the right placement for someone in that ATR pool, with principals who are ready to take the talented folks,” de Blasio said. “And if they find in some cases someone is not up to the challenge, they’re ready to act on that and we can work to move that person out of the system.”

This is not the first time the city has made a special exception for schools in de Blasio’s signature school-improvement program. The education department also reduced the number of hard-to-serve latecomer students that it sent Renewal schools, and gave them extra time to meet performance goals.

gates keeper

Gates Foundation to move away from teacher evals, shifting attention to ‘networks’ of public schools

PHOTO: Department for International Development/Russell Watkins

Its massive education funding efforts have helped spread small high schools, charter schools, and efforts to overhaul teacher evaluations. Now, the Gates Foundation is going in a new direction.

In a speech Thursday, Bill Gates said the foundation is about to launch a new, locally driven effort to help existing public schools improve.

The idea is to fund “networks” that help public schools improve by scrutinizing student achievement data and getting schools to share their best ideas, he said. Of the $1.7 billion the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend on U.S. education over the next five years, more than 60 percent will go to these networks — dwarfing the amount to be spent on charter schools, about 15 percent.

Gates said that’s both because he wants to go where other philanthropy isn’t and because the foundation’s strategy is to affect as many students as possible. (Only 5 percent of U.S. public-school students attended a charter school in 2014.)

“In general, philanthropic dollars there … on charters is fairly high. We will be a bit different. Because of our scale, we feel that we need to put the vast majority of our money into these networks of public schools,” Gates said. (“We love charters,” he quickly added.)

The Gates Foundation is a supporter of Chalkbeat.

The strategy appears to be a nationwide expansion of the work Bob Hughes, the Gates Foundation’s K-12 education chief, did in New York City as the longtime head of an organization called New Visions for Public Schools. New Visions started several dozen district and charter schools but also created tools for schools to check on student progress that were later adopted by New York City itself.

Gates offered other examples: Chicago’s Network for College Success, which works with about 15 high schools; the LIFT Network in Tennessee, which includes 12 school districts; and the CORE Districts in California. The foundation plans to fund 20 to 30 such networks, Gates said.

Also notable is where Gates said the philanthropy will no longer be sending money: toward efforts to encourage new teacher evaluation systems, which in some states have faced fierce political resistance in recent years.

The foundation’s new work to support school networks will be driven by local ideas about how to create the best schools, Gates said.

“The challenge is that, even that piece when it’s done very well, the teacher in the classroom — that is not enough to get the full result we want,” Gates said. “And this is something that I’m sure has been obvious to all of you. But it’s really the entire school, where the leadership, the development, the overall culture, the analysis of what’s going on with the kids — it’s that school level where you have to get everything coming together.”

The final quarter of that $1.7 billion will go toward research into how kinds of technology could improve student learning and ways to improve math instruction and career preparation.

Results are in

Tennessee’s largest district sees 1 in 5 young students meeting expectations on new TNReady test

About a fifth of students are meeting expectations in math and English in grades 3 to 8 in Shelby County Schools, according to state data released Thursday.

That’s the lowest of the state’s four urban districts, though not far behind Nashville schools at about 26 and 28 percent in English and math respectively.

The test results are significant because they will serve as a baseline for the state’s new TNReady test meant to be more rigorous and better align with national standards like the ACT and the nation’s report card. But the switch to the new test was especially disruptive for the district’s turnaround program for its lowest achieving students, which until now showed significant progress compared to other low-performing schools in the district.

The Memphis district fared better in science with 40 percent of students meeting state expectations, though guidelines on what students should know in science remained unchanged under the new test. State and local leaders had been bracing for lower scores as educators adjust curriculum to fit the new standards.

Specifically, here’s how many Shelby County Schools students in grades 3 to 8 met state expectations:

  • 20.4 percent in English
  • 21.7 percent in math
  • 40.8 percent in science

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the results will be helpful as the district strategizes on ways to improve student achievement.

“As educators, our focus is always on helping our students grow academically,” he said in a statement. “This baseline year of TNReady results shows us where we have opportunities to provide additional support.”

Elementary and middle school students in the district’s turnaround initiative, the Innovation Zone, scored the same in math and English compared to other low-performing district-run schools identified by the state that aren’t in the program. The results suggest iZone leaders have as much to adjust as other schools in the district, despite the extra flow of resources per school.

Percentage of iZone elementary and middle school students in 15 schools who scored “on track or mastered,” meaning they met the state’s standards:

  • 11.3 percent in English
  • 14.4 percent in math
  • 38 percent in science

Elementary and middle school students in 33 historically low-performing schools run by the district who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 11.1 percent in English
  • 14.2 percent in math
  • 29.2 percent in science

The district’s charter schools for grades 3 to 8 fared worse in English and math than district-run schools and slightly better in science. Last year, eight of the district’s 45 charter schools who took the test earlier this year were on the state’s list of bottom 10 percent scoring schools under the previous exam.

Charter elementary and middle school students who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 14.9 percent in English
  • 15.2 percent in math
  • 43.1 percent in science

Scores for 15 schools for various subjects were not publicly released because each achievement category had less than 5 percent or greater than 95 percent of students at the school, according to state spokeswoman Sara Gast.

The scores released Thursday reflect corrected scores for 9,400 students statewide and just over 1,000 in Shelby County Schools after the state’s testing vendor Questar ran an incorrect scan for some high school subjects.