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

 

 

 

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. 

poster campaign

How one Memphis student is elevating the conversation about school discipline

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Posters created by junior Janiya Douglas have amplified student voices about the culture of White Station High School in Memphis.

Now in her third year of attending a premier public high school in Memphis, Janiya Douglas says she’s observed discipline being handed out unevenly to her classmates, depending on whether they are on the college preparatory track.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
From left: Janiya Douglas and Michal Mckay are student leaders in Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

“We’re heavily divided in an academic hierarchy,” said Janiya, a junior in the optional program for high-achieving students at White Station High School. “It’s obvious students are treated differently if they are in traditional classes.”

Janiya also has observed racial disparities in how students are disciplined, and the state’s data backs that up. White Station students who are black or Hispanic are suspended at significantly higher rates than students who are white.

Frustrated by what she’s seen, Janiya took her concerns last Friday to the hallways of White Station and hung 14 posters to declare that “our school doesn’t treat everybody equally.”

By Monday morning, the posters were gone — removed by school administrators because Janiya did not get prior approval — but not before other students shared images of some of the messages on social media.

Now, Janiya is seeing some fruits of her activism, spawned by her participation in Bridge Builders CHANGE, a student leadership program offered by a local nonprofit organization.

In the last week, she’s met with Principal David Mansfield, a school counselor and a district discipline specialist to discuss her concerns. She’s encouraged that someone is listening, and hopes wider conversations will follow.

The discussions also are bringing attention to an online petition by the education justice arm of Bridge Builders calling for suspension alternatives across schools in Memphis.

White Station often is cited as one of the jewels of Shelby County Schools, a district wrought with academic challenges. The East Memphis school is partially optional, meaning some students test into the college prep program from across the county.

But Janiya and some of her classmates say they also see an academically and racially segregated school where students zoned to the traditional program are looked down upon by teachers. Those students often get harsher punishments, they say, than their optional program counterparts for the same actions.

“Our school doesn’t treat everybody equally. A lot of groups aren’t treated equally in our school system,” junior Tyra Akoto said in a quote featured on one poster.

“If we get wrong with a teacher, they’ll probably write us up. But if a white student was to do it, they’ll just play it off or something like that,” said Kelsey Brown, another junior, also quoted in the poster campaign.

A district spokeswoman did not respond to questions about disciplinary issues raised by the posters, but offered a statement about their removal from the school’s walls.

White Station is known for “enabling student voice and allowing students to express their opinions in various ways,” the statement reads. “However, there are protocols in place that must be followed before placing signs, posters, or other messages on school property. Schools administrators will always work with students to ensure they feel their voices are heard.”

PHOTO: @edj.youth/Instagram
Members of the education justice arm of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program

To create the posters, Janiya interviewed about two dozen students and had been learning about about school discipline disparities as part of the Bridge Builders CHANGE program.

State discipline data does not differentiate academic subgroups in optional schools. But white students in Shelby County Schools are more likely to be in an optional school program and less likely to be suspended. And statewide in 2014-15, black students were more than five times as likely as white students to be suspended.

White Station reflects those same disparities. About 28 percent of black boys and 19 percent of black girls were suspended that same year — significantly higher than the school’s overall suspension rate of 14 percent. About 17 percent of Hispanic boys and 7 percent of Hispanic girls were suspended. By comparison, 9 percent of white boys and 2 percent of white girls were suspended.

Shelby County Schools has been working to overhaul its disciplinary practices to move from punitive practices to a “restorative justice” approach — a transition that is not as widespread as officials would like, according to Gina True, one of four specialists implementing a behavior system called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, or PBIS.

“The whole goal is to not get them suspended, because we want to educate them,” said True, who met this week with Janiya and several other students from Bridge Builders. “When students are cared for emotionally, they perform better academically. As counselors, that’s what we’ve been saying for years.”

Janiya acknowledges that she didn’t follow her school’s policy last week when hanging posters without permission at White Station. But she thinks her action has been a catalyst for hard conversations that need to happen. And she hopes the discussions will include more student input from her school — and across the district.

“Those most affected by the issues should always be a part of the solution,” she said.

Correction: April 10, 2017: A previous version of this story said Janiya put up 50 posters at her school. She designed 50 but actually posted only 14.