tv-side chat

Bloomberg vows last-in first-out crackdown, new tenure policy

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Mayor Bloomberg on NBC today, announcing a crackdown on seniority-based layoffs and a new tenure policy.

In his first major education policy announcement for the new school year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg this morning vowed a renewed attack on seniority laws that protect veteran teachers and a change in how teachers are awarded tenure.

He made the remarks on NBC, which is dedicating this week to school reporting in a project called “Education Nation.”

The attack on seniority laws came as city officials made a dire budget prediction for next year, saying that they will likely have to lay off public school teachers as federal stimulus funding runs out. Under the current state law, teachers with the least seniority would be the first to lose their jobs — a policy known as “last in, first out.” The mayor and Chancellor Joel Klein oppose this policy, but their effort to change the law, which the teachers union does support, went nowhere last year.

Today, the mayor said he would try dismantling the policy again before the city confronts an expected $700 million budget hole and possible layoffs next year.

“It’s time for us to end the ‘last-in, first out’ layoff policy that puts children at risk here in New York — and across our wonderful country,” Bloomberg said on NBC. “How could anyone argue that this is good for children? The law is nothing more than special interest politics, and we’re going to get rid of it before it hurts our kids,” he added.

Teachers union officials immediately squashed any possibility that they might partner with the mayor.

“The seniority layoff process is part of state law and a critical guarantee against discrimination,” United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said in an e-mailed statement. “If the Mayor wants to change seniority, he will need to talk to the Legislature,” Mulgrew said. “Given that body’s lack of enthusiasm for many of the Mayor’s plans — like congestion pricing — we expect an appropriate amount of skepticism.”

Assemblyman Jonathan Bing, who introduced the bill to end seniority-based layoffs last year, is running for reelection this November and is likely to hold onto his seat. He has said that he will continue to push for the law’s repeal if he is re-elected.

Bloomberg also announced plans to change how teachers are given tenure.

Last year, Bloomberg had announced a first major shift in the tenure-granting process. For the first time, students’ test scores became a formal factor, as the city ranked teachers eligible for tenure by their value-added scores, a complex and sometimes-unstable measurement of effectiveness. Principals were then advised to deny tenure to the lowest-scoring teachers, though they could override the city’s recommendations.

This year, Bloomberg said the city will add more information to the decision process by way of a new teacher evaluation system passed by the state legislature this year. The evaluation system uses a combination of information, including principal evaluations and value-added scores, to rank teachers in one of four categories — highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective.

All 6,300 teachers who are eligible for tenure this year will be placed in one of these categories. Principals will be instructed to deny tenure to “developing” and “ineffective” teachers, said DOE spokeswoman Ann Forte.

Mulgrew swiped at this set of comments, too, taking issue with Bloomberg’s description of tenure as “automatic.” But the teachers union president said that teachers would likely prefer the new evaluation system — which was passed with the union’s support — as a more “objective” alternative to the current model.

Tacked onto the mayor’s announcement was also news that the city is partnering with IBM and the City University of New York to open a new school. Serving students in grade 9-14, the school would graduate students with associates degrees in computer science and the promise of a job at IBM.

Betsy DeVos

‘Underperformer,’ ‘bully,’ and a ‘mermaid with legs’: NYMag story slams Betsy DeVos

PHOTO: New York Magazine
A drawing of DeVos commissioned by an 8-year-old starts the New York Magazine article.

A new article detailing Betsy DeVos’s first six months as U.S. education secretary concludes that she’s “a mermaid with legs: clumsy, conspicuous, and unable to move forward.”

That’s just one of several brutal critiques of DeVos’s leadership and effectiveness in the New York Magazine story, by Lisa Miller, who has previously covered efforts to overhaul high schools, New York City’s pre-kindergarten push, and the apocalypse. Here are some highlights:

  • Bipartisan befuddlement: The story summarizes the left’s well known opposition to DeVos’s school choice agenda. But her political allies also say she’s making unnecessary mistakes: “Most mystifying to those invested in her success is why DeVos hasn’t found herself some better help.”
  • A friend’s defense: DeVos is “muzzled” by the Trump administration, said her friend and frequent defender Kevin Chavous, a school choice activist.
  • The department reacts: “More often than not press statements are being written by career staff,” a spokesperson told Miller, rejecting claims that politics are trumping policy concerns.
  • D.C. colleagues speak: “When you talk to her, it’s a blank stare,” said Charles Doolittle, who quit the Department of Education in June. A current education department employee says: “It’s not clear that the secretary is making decisions or really capable of understanding the elements of a good decision.”
  • Kids critique: The magazine commissioned six portraits of DeVos drawn by grade-schoolers.
  • Special Olympics flip-flop: DeVos started out saying she was proud to partner with the athletics competition for people with disabilities — and quickly turned to defending a budget that cuts the program’s funding.
  • In conclusion: DeVos is an underperformer,” a “bully” and “ineffective,” Miller found based on her reporting.

We’ve reached out for reaction from DeVos’s team and will update when we hear back.

teachers with borders

Schools near state lines perform worse — and rules discouraging teachers from moving may be to blame

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Want a leg up in school? Don’t attend one near a state border.

That’s the surprising finding of a new study published in the Economics of Education Review. The likely culprit: certification and pension rules that discourage teachers from moving between states, limiting the labor pool on each side of the border.

The peer-reviewed paper focuses on test scores at public middle schools near a state boundary. Eighth-graders attending those schools, the researchers find, perform consistently worse in math than students at non-boundary schools. (The results are negative in reading, too, but smaller and not always statistically significant.)

One reason the findings ought to catch the attention of policymakers across the country: the data comes from 33 states, including big ones like Florida, New York, and Texas.

“We estimate that roughly 670,000 students are enrolled in middle schools nationally that are [considered] ‘intensely affected’ by a state boundary in our study,” the researchers write.

Of course, schools and students are not randomly assigned to be near state boundaries, so the study can’t definitively conclude that boundaries are the cause of lower performance. But the researchers — Dongwoo Kim, Cory Koedel, Shawn Ni, and Michael Podgursky, all of the University of Missouri — control for a number of student characteristics that might affect performance.

And while the study can’t pinpoint why a boundary seems to hurt test scores, the researchers have a theory: “state-specific pension and licensing policies” that discourage teachers from moving between states, likely forcing border schools to draw from a more limited pool of potential teachers.

In some places, those pension rules mean a substantial loss of retirement wealth if teachers move states mid-career. Complicated licensure rules that in some cases require experienced teachers to take certification exams or obtain additional degrees can also make that kind of switch practically difficult. Other research has found that teachers rarely move across state lines, even if they live near a boundary.

Why might that harm performance of schools near state lines?

Say a school in New York City has two science teachers and no math teachers, while a school right across the river in New Jersey has two math teachers and no science teachers. If each school needs exactly one teacher per subject, the solution is easy in theory: the New York City school gets a math teacher and loses a science one, and vice versa for the New Jersey school. But if certification or pension rules prevent that from happening, both schools lose out — and student achievement might suffer.

States aren’t typically eager to change those policies, though, for several reasons.

For one, states that require prospective teachers to clear a high bar to become certified may worry that making it too easy for an out-of-state teacher to receive a license could reduce teacher quality. A study from North Carolina provides some evidence for this argument, showing that teachers trained elsewhere were less effective than teachers trained in-state, though the difference was very small.

Another argument is that limiting teachers’ ability to bring pension money along with them when they move helps states hold on to their educators — even if they are in turn harmed when they can’t recruit teachers from elsewhere.

The latest study suggests that the net impact of those restrictions are negative. Still, the effects on students are quite small, implying that changes to pension and certification policies are unlikely to lead to large improvements in student performance.

But, the study points out, policies that eliminate the harm from attending school near a state line could help hundreds of thousands of students.

“Although the boundary effects are small on a per-student basis, they are spread across a very large population,” the researchers write.