ATR Update

New York City sent just 41 unassigned teachers to schools after predicting up to 400 placements

After announcing a plan to place up to 400 teachers without permanent jobs in schools with openings this fall — potentially over principals’ objections — the New York City education department ended up placing just 41, according to figures released Thursday.

The placements are part of a city effort to shrink by half the pool of teachers who receive full salaries and benefits despite having lost their full-time positions due to disciplinary or legal issues, or because schools where they worked were closed or lost enrollment. The pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve, cost the city nearly $152 million last school year.

In September, just over 1,200 teachers were in the pool — a 20 percent decrease from the start of the previous school year, department officials said. The officials attributed the reduction to a hiring incentive that subsidized the salaries of teachers the schools agreed to hire permanently, and a severance package given to over 100 teachers who retired or resigned this summer.

In recent months, principals with open positions have hired 359 of the unassigned teachers — including 205 on a provisional basis, who will only be kept on if they receive good job ratings. The other 113 teachers were hired permanently under a deal where the department will subsidize their salaries through mid-2019.

Randy Asher, the education department official tasked with shrinking the pool, said the city would work to find placements for more unassigned teachers this school year, though he could not say how many. He added that the city would try whenever possible to have principals voluntarily hire the teachers rather than be assigned them.

“We’ve been working to make matches of their own choosing,” Asher told Chalkbeat. “We’re going to continue to work with principals on a case by case basis.”

None of the 41 teachers assigned to schools had faced legal or disciplinary cases, officials said.

Typically, teachers in the reserve pool rotate among schools on a monthly basis, often serving as substitutes. But under the new assignment policy, the teachers — who started at their new positions in November — will remain in the same school for the full academic year.

Officials said the year-long placements will allow the teachers to participate in school trainings and be evaluated by their principals. Those are rated “effective” or “highly effective” on their evaluations will be permanently hired by their schools, the officials said.

The city’s earlier projection of 300 to 400 placements was based on expected school vacancies, but officials said that some of those vacancies turned out to be for teachers on leave who are due to return soon or for spots that no longer need filled due to declining enrollment.

It’s also possible the smaller-than-expected number of vacancies could reflect principals scrambling to fill or otherwise hide their vacant positions before Oct. 15, after which the city was to begin assigning them teachers.

After the placement plan was announced in July, some principals said it would take away their freedom to hire whomever they choose and could saddle them with ineffective teachers. Among 822 teachers in the reserve at the end of last school year, 12 percent had been rated “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” in 2015-16, compared to just 1 percent of teachers citywide, according to city data.

Critics also worried the plan would send subpar teachers to struggling schools, since they are most likely to have openings.

The schools where the 41 teachers were sent include a high school that is part of the city’s “Renewal” program for low-performing schools. Taken together, the schools enroll a higher share of poor students and a lower share of students who passed the state exams than the city average, according to an analysis released by The Education Trust – New York, an advocacy group that had criticized the city’s teacher-placement plan.

“This raises major equity concerns,” said Ian Rosenblum, the group’s executive director, in a statement.

Despite advocates’ fears, some principals welcomed the teachers. Department officials said the principal of the Renewal high school, the Coalition School for Social Change in Manhattan, asked to be sent a teacher from the pool. And the principal of a Bronx school said it struggled to find a qualified special-education teacher before the city assigned it one.

“I don’t know if I got lucky, but it worked out,” said the principal, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “My dawning perception of folks who are ATRs is give them a job, give them a clear role, and hold them accountable — and they mostly do it.”

The reserve pool grew under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who struck a deal with the teachers union that gave principals more power to make hiring decisions but prevented teachers from being fired. As the Bloomberg administration aggressively closed schools, the number of unassigned teachers swelled even as the union resisted efforts to cap the length of time educators could remain in the pool.

In 2014, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promised not to use “forced placement of staff” as a way to shrink the ATR pool. Officials argue that the current policy does not qualify as forced placement because teachers are only sent to schools with open positions and the assigned teachers cannot bump others from their positions.

In October, Fariña said principals should “take a chance” on unassigned teachers.

“But if there’s one who you really feel should not be in any school — not just in your school,” she added, “then we’ll support you.”

The schools that were assigned teachers are spread among 20 of the city’s 32 local districts, with the largest — Manhattan’s District 2 — receiving the most teachers (6). Below are the schools where they were sent:

Manhattan

P.S./I.S. 217 ROOSEVELT ISLAND
BATTERY PARK CITY SCHOOL
BUSINESS OF SPORTS SCHOOL
THE HIGH SCHOOL FOR LANGUAGE AND DIPLOMACY
HIGH SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND FINANCE
INDEPENDENCE HIGH SCHOOL
COALITION SCHOOL FOR SOCIAL CHANGE
P.S. 092 MARY MCLEOD BETHUNE
P.S. 133 FRED R MOORE
P.S. 197 JOHN B. RUSSWURM
MOTT HALL HIGH SCHOOL

Bronx

BRONX DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION ACADEMY
P.S. 011 HIGHBRIDGE
P.S. 199X – THE SHAKESPEARE SCHOOL
THE NEW AMERICAN ACADEMY AT ROBERTO CLEMENTE STATE
NEW DIRECTIONS SECONDARY SCHOOL
BEDFORD PARK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
P.S. 041 GUN HILL ROAD
P.S./M.S. 11X498 – VAN NEST ACADEMY
FREDERICK DOUGLASS ACADEMY V. MIDDLE SCHOOL

Brooklyn

P.S. 003 THE BEDFORD VILLAGE
CITY POLYTECHNIC HIGH SCHOOL
PS 059 WILLIAM FLOYD
P.S. 147 ISAAC REMSEN
KHALIL GIBRAN INTERNATIONAL ACADEMY
P.S. 191 PAUL ROBESON
SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND RESEARCH EARLY COLLEGE HS
P.S. 219 KENNEDY-KING
I.S. 285 MEYER LEVIN
FDNY – CAPTAIN VERNON A. RICHARDS HIGH SCHOOL
EAST NEW YORK MIDDLE SCHOOL OF EXCELLENCE
P.S. 164 CAESAR RODNEY
MOTT HALL BRIDGES ACADEMY

Queens

P.S./I.S. 087 MIDDLE VILLAGE
PIONEER ACADEMY
GOLDIE MAPLE ACADEMY
P.S. 015 JACKIE ROBINSON
P.S./M.S. 147 RONALD MCNAIR
P.S. 127 AEROSPACE SCIENCE MAGNET SCHOOL

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”

Back to school

Newark officials deliver a message to students on first day: Keep showing up

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León spoke to seventh-graders at Hawkins Street School on the first day of school Tuesday.

At Hawkins Street School Tuesday morning, eighth-grade teacher Jasmine Johnson was at the whiteboard writing her students’ goals for the new school year — complete all assignments, get into a great high school — when in walked two unusual visitors: Newark’s mayor and schools chief.

Luckily for Johnson, Mayor Ras Baraka’s message was also about goals — namely, the lofty goal of perfect attendance.

“Try your best to get here and be in these seats every single day,” the mayor told the students as a phalanx of TV cameras captured his remarks from the back of the room. “It’s very, very important. The superintendent is super focused on that.”

Superintendent Roger León, who started in July and is the city’s first locally selected schools chief in more than two decades, told employees last week that he wants the district to achieve 100 percent attendance. That is a hugely ambitious, if not impossible, goal considering that the average daily attendance was 90 percent in 2016-17 and — even more troubling to experts — about 30 percent of students were chronically absent.

To assist in the effort, León has promised to rehire the attendance counselors who were laid off by former Superintendent Cami Anderson and to restore the truancy teams that in the past roamed the streets searching for students who cut class. He also ordered every district employee to call five students’ families before the start of the school year to remind them that school began Tuesday.

“It’s important for everyone to worry about student attendance,” León said during the all-staff meeting at the Prudential Center last Tuesday.

At a school board meeting that evening, district officials said that an analysis of state test data had shown a strong connection between attendance and test scores: Students who regularly showed up to class earned markedly higher scores.

Research shows the reverse is also true. Students who are chronically absent, meaning they missed 10 percent or more of school days, tend to perform worse on tests and are more likely to drop out of school and enter the criminal-justice system.

Peter Chen, a staff attorney at Advocates for Children of New Jersey who co-wrote a report on Newark’s high-school absenteeism problem last year, said in an August interview that schools often take a compliance-driven approach to attendance. After students miss a certain number of days, staffers may call or write home and inform families of the problem.

He said that a more effective, but also more resource-intensive, strategy is to analyze why certain students are frequently absent — for instance, are they suffering from mental-health challenges or struggling with school work? Then social workers and other staffers should try to help remove those obstacles that are keeping students out of class, Chen added.

He also pointed out that León’s state-appointed predecessors, including Anderson and Christopher Cerf, also came up with plans to reduce absenteeism. But top-level mandates only go so far, Chen said.

“What we’ve seen is that leadership at the top matters,” he said. “But on a day-to-day basis, what happens in school buildings is often more a function of the school-building leadership.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Seventh-graders listened to Superintendent León on Tuesday.

At Hawkins Street, Principal Alejandro Lopez said his school’s attendance task force had already devised its own plan to boost attendance.

Students with perfect attendance each week will earn “Hawk bucks,” named for the school mascot, and be entered into raffles to win prizes. Also, the three classes with the highest attendance rates at the end of the year will take a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure theme park.

Meanwhile, support staff will look for ways to help students who are frequently absent. In 2016-17, 45 percent of Hawkins Street students missed more than 10 days of school. Getting them to show up every day this year will be hard, Lopez said — but doing so is crucial.

“If you’re not present, you’re not going to learn,” he said. “There’s no substitute for that.”

After leaving Johnson’s room Tuesday morning, Mayor Baraka and Superintendent León stopped by a seventh-grade math class where teams of students were building towers out of noodles and marshmallows.

León told the class that he had attended Hawkins Street as a child, before growing up to become a teacher, principal, and now, superintendent. Baraka, another Newark Public Schools graduate and former principal, told the students he loved them and would make sure they got whatever they needed to succeed.

After the city officials left to visit two high schools, 12-year-old Angeles Rosario said she was excited about the new school year — and dance classes, in particular. That the mayor had chosen to visit her school first on Tuesday only added to her excitement, she said.

“There are many other schools in Newark,” she pointed out, “but he decided to come to ours.”