preemptive strike

Union: City is the reason, not the solution, for teacher shortages

The Department of Education hasn’t officially submitted a proposal to train and certify its own teachers, but already the plan has encountered stiff resistance.

Just two days after a top department official floated the idea during testimony at Governor Cuomo’s education reform commission, New York City teachers union president Michael Mulgrew said he “strongly opposes” any effort to give the city authority over teacher certification, a process currently reserved almost exclusively for education colleges.

State and city officials contend that handing off certification duties to the education department would help chip away at the long-standing problem of teacher shortage some subjects.

But citing teacher attrition data from the 2006-2007 school year, Mulgrew wrote in a letter to commission Chair Richard Parsons today that if anyone is to blame for the teacher shortages in the school system, it is the education department.

Of the 6940 teachers hired that year, 38.9 percent have left the system, according to data provided by the UFT. That rate increased to 50 percent for teachers of Science, English and English as a Second Language.

“The specific problems of staffing these shortage areas are not a function of poor teacher training in existing institutions, but rather the DOE’s abysmal record of supporting, developing and retaining the teachers it already has,” Mulgrew wrote.

Overall teacher attrition is actually down 50 percent since the time Bloomberg took office a decade ago, according to department spokeswoman Erin Hughes said.

“Mr. Mulgrew is entitled to his own rhetoric, but not his own facts,” Hughes said in a statement. Mulgrew and union officials said that fewer people left the school system in recent years because the economic recession and high unemployment has made it riskier for teachers to leave their jobs.

In Tuesday’s testimony, however, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suranksy said  that traditional education programs haven’t produced enough highly-qualified candidates to fill the system’s needs.

“Already, we’re having to retrain many teachers when they come into the system because they don’t have the skills that they need,” Polakow-Suranksy said.

The commission, which includes American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, won’t have a final say on whether the proposal is approved. But its recommendations, expected later this year, are likely to influence many education policy decisions that get made at the state level.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, said today that better preparation — not high attrition — was the solution.

“For 30 years we’ve been talking about shortages in math and science,” she said. Traditional education programs “aren’t churning out enough teachers who are qualified and certified to teach at the level we need them to.”

“No one should get in an uproar,” Tisch added. “This is the beginning of a conversation that I think is long overdue.”

Mulgrew’s letter is below:

18 October 2012

Richard Parsons
Chair
(c/o Katie Campos)
The Education Reform Commission
The State Capitol
Room 257
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Mr. Parsons,

I want to thank you and the members of the Education Reform Commission for the recent opportunity you afforded me to talk about the pressing issues that the children and the schools of New York City face.  These include the need for community learning centers and the lack of  enhanced curriculum and professional development to meet the challenges posed by the state’s adoption of the national Common Core standards in reading and mathematics.

But I would also like to address an issue raised by the city’s Department of Education – the DOE’s request that it be granted the power on its own to certify teachers for the classroom.  Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky specifically cited the need for special education and science teachers, and said “We don’t want to have to depend on a university in order to train our teachers.”

The United Federation of Teachers strongly opposes any effort to allow the city’s Department of Education to certify teachers for the classroom, in part because the DOE has proven itself seriously challenged by the management responsibilities it already holds to manage and improve the 1,700 public schools in New York City.

The specific problems of staffing these shortage areas are not a function of poor teacher training in existing institutions, but rather the DOE’s abysmal record of supporting, developing and retaining the teachers it already has.

The DOE cited science and special education as areas of particular need, but as the accompanying chart shows, more than one-third of the special ed teachers the DOE hired in the 2006-2007 school year have already left the system.  The DOE may cite outside economic forces as the source of the loss of half the science teachers hired during the same period, but it can hardly use that excuse to justify the loss of half the English and ESL teachers during the same time.  This constant churning of teachers destabilizes schools and ill-serves the one million students in our system.

Giving the DOE the power to certify teachers on its own would do little to confront the real problem of teacher attrition, and at best would be only a distraction from the heavy responsibilities the DOE already struggles to deal with.

Sincerely,
Michael Mulgrew
President
United Federation of Teachers

Cc:  James Malatras

Deputy Secretary for Policy

 

                     NYC Teachers Hired July 2006-July 2007, by License,

                        With Cumulative Attrition through December 2011

 

LICENSE

 

NUMBER HIRED

# ATTRITION

TO DATE

% ATTRITION

 TO DATE

Common Branch

1827

643

35.2%

English

633

316

49.9%

ESL

325

164

50.5%

Math

663

296

44.6%

Other

1179

368

31.2%

Sciences-all

436

223

51.1%

Social Studies

395

166

42.0%

SpEd

1482

522

35.2%

TOTAL

6940

2698

38.9%*

Source:  DOEpersonnel files

 

 

 

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.