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

 

 

 

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.