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

 

 

 

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.