human capital

A cheer, then a caution, as theater teacher hiring rules relax

Add theater to the list of subjects for which principals have been allowed to circumvent the city’s longstanding teacher hiring freeze.

The city allowed four principals to hire theater teachers from outside the school system last month, breaking from the hiring restrictions in place since May 2009 that limit most job searches to current city teachers.

The Center for Arts Education, a group that advocates for more arts instruction in the city’s public schools, released a statement cheering the city for opening hiring for theater teachers and calling on it to end the freeze for all arts teachers. The city has just 100 theater teachers, and 20 percent of schools have no arts teachers at all, according to CAE.

But city officials said the hiring freeze hasn’t been lifted in theater the way it has been in other subjects, such as Latin and English as a second language. Instead, the city simply granted exemptions to all of the schools looking for theater teachers in mid-September, according to Ann Forte, a Department of Education spokeswoman. At the time, there was just a single theater teacher in the Absent Teacher Reserve, the pool of excessed teachers to which principals are expected to look first when filling vacant positions, she said.

Currently, the city’s hiring system lists no open positions for theater teachers, Forte said.

There are currently 54 vacant positions for arts teachers, according to CAE’s statement. The city did not immediately respond to questions about how many arts teachers are in the ATR pool, but last fall, there were dozens.

Here’s the full statement from CAE policy director Doug Israel:

October 18, 2010

The city’s Department of Education has announced that the system-wide hiring freeze for New York City public schools has been lifted for theater teachers in order to fill current school-based vacancies. That’s great news.

As the director of research and policy for The Center for Arts Education I have advocated on CAE’s behalf to lift this freeze as one of several means to ensure that city public schools have an adequate array of highly qualified arts instructors on staff.

Since 2009 city schools have only been allowed to hire existing DOE teachers-either working in other schools or in excess in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool-to fill vacancies. Principals will now be permitted to hire licensed theater teachers from outside the system to fill these slots. This is a welcome development as there are only approximately 100 theater teachers citywide and more than 1.1 million school children-a ratio of about 1 theater teacher for every 11,000 city students.

There are currently four announced vacancies for theater teachers in city schools. Theater teachers licensed by the State of New York can apply for these positions by uploading relevant materials to the TeachNYC portal at: http://schools.nyc.gov/TeachNYC/apply/default.htm.

We commend the DOE for responding to the recognized shortage of certified theater teachers by lifting the hiring freeze in this area.

However, we are concerned that there are approximately 54 arts teacher vacancies in city public schools.  More troubling is the fact that more than 20% of schools have no full-time certified arts instructor on staff.  This is consistent at the middle and high school levels where, according to state education law, students must complete two arts courses led by an instructor certified in the subject matter they teach.

We call upon the DOE and the Office of Arts and Special Projects to ensure that all 54 vacancies are filled in a timely manner and that all schools have a minimum of one certified arts instructor on staff to ensure that New York City school children receive the quality arts instruction to which they are entitled.

Sincerely, Doug Israel
Director of Research and Policy

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”