attn atrs

Letter from Mulgrew to ATRs suggests teachers less likely to face expedited hearings than city signaled

Updated with the city’s response: UFT President Michael Mulgrew told excessed teachers on Tuesday that they would be offered a severance package as a part of the proposed contract between the teachers union and the city—a provision that Chalkbeat reported Monday night and was not disclosed for days after both sides’ celebratory announcement.

New details from a memo sent from Mulgrew to absent teacher reserve members, and information provided by union officials, reveal that the excessed teachers would also have stronger job protections than were originally reported or acknowledged by officials.

At last week’s announcement, officials implied that the ATR pool—which includes 1,200 teachers without full-time positions but who are on the city payroll—would be reduced partially by relying on an expedited termination hearing process. The excessed teachers deemed ready for the classroom would be sent to schools with vacancies, but principals who felt the teacher was not a good fit would be able to send the teacher back.

City officials initially said that two rejections would trigger an expedited termination hearing and schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña suggested that principals would be able to move quickly to reject a teacher they didn’t want.

“If they go visit a school and the principal says, ‘OK, I’ll try her out,’ but after a day, ‘I don’t want her,’ it’s gone,” Fariña said.

It’s true that a principal will be able to remove teachers who aren’t the right fit in schools they’re assigned to, a union spokeswoman said today. Those teachers will return to the ATR pool, but there is not limit to the number of times they could be given additional temporary placements, she said.

And today’s memo to ATRs explains that a teacher would only be eligible to be brought up on termination charges under that expedited hearing if misconduct two “successive” principals document them for misconduct. That means that if two out of three principals document misconduct—as opposed to two in a row—the teacher would still be permitted to fill vacancies at another school, making  it much less likely that the new hearing process on its own will significantly reduce the number of teachers in the pool.

City officials disputed the union’s take on the issue, saying that ATR teachers merely need to be documented twice in a school year.

“We are reducing the Department’s spending in the ATR pool by helping good teachers get back into the classroom while expediting the process to move out teachers who don’t belong in the profession,” said spokeswoman Devora Kaye. “And as the Chancellor affirmed last week, we are doing so while respecting mutual-consent hiring.”

In the five days since de Blasio and Mulgrew congratulated one another for agreeing on a framework for public school teachers’ first contract since 2005, both sides have been slow to provide details of the deal. They praised the agreement last week for including raises, allowing for innovative school scheduling, and putting the city school system on a path toward “true reform.”

In today’s memo, Mulgrew blamed the press for propagating “some myths” about a new arrangement to place them back into city schools. Just 12 hours earlier, the union declined to discuss details about the ATR arrangement, including the severance package for excessed teachers.

Critics pounced on the new details as evidence that Mayor Bill de Blasio was purposefully withholding less-flattering information about the contract.

“It’s outrageous that the de Blasio administration covered up the details of a deal that will put 1,200 teachers back into the classrooms of this city’s most vulnerable children, ” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said. “Until we see actual contract language, this calls into question every aspect of Thursday’s announcement.”
Requests for comments from the city were not immediately returned, but we will update the story with a response.

Mulgrew’s full note to ATRs is below:

Dear Colleagues,

When the previous administration let it be known that it intended to summarily fire all members in the Absent Teacher Reserve, we as a union made a commitment to stand by our members. We held true to that commitment throughout our negotiations, and the results are in this new contract.

The contract preserves your rights and improves your chances of permanent placement. And, of course, you will participate in the contractual raises and working-condition changes that we won for all members. The press coverage, however, has included some myths about how ATRs are treated under the new contract and misconceptions abound. We want to be sure you have the facts and know your rights.

Myth #1 (the biggest one!):
The city is going to fire the ATRs.
Reality:
No UFT member, whether an ATR or otherwise, will ever be automatically fired. Any ATR may accept, at his or her sole discretion, a voluntary severance package based on years of service.

Myth #2:
Schools still won’t hire ATRs because they are too expensive.
Reality:
Under the new contract, schools that select ATRs for permanent placement will not have that ATR’s salary included in the school’s average teacher salary calculation, which means that principals no longer have a reason to pass over more senior educators in favor of newer hires with lower salaries.

Myth #3:
The contract includes a new way to get rid of ATRs.
Reality:
Not true. ATRs actually get improved access to job placements. Between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, 2014, the DOE must send ATRs on interviews for vacancies in their districts and boroughs, and ATRs must attend all of those interviews. After Oct. 15, ATRs are required to accept provisional assignments to schools with a vacancy in their license area within their district or borough. If there is no school with a vacancy in their district or borough, they will continue to be rotated within their district.

Myth #4:
ATRs are going to lose their due process rights.
Reality:
No ATR can be disciplined or fired unless a hearing officer decides that is appropriate in a 3020-a hearing. An ATR who has been placed in a vacancy and is removed by two successive principals for documented misconduct — not pedagogy — may be subject to discipline. The DOE must prove the charge of misconduct through an expedited 3020-a process.

The new contract agreement between the UFT and the DOE, which will go out for your ratification soon, is a strong contract for all our members, including all our ATRs.

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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.