Black on city history, teacher turnover, and school closures

Chancellor Cathie Black showed what she has learned and what she hasn't in her first month on the job on NY1 last night.

Chancellor Cathie Black’s interview on Inside City Hall last night is worth watching in full. The interview exposes just how much Black has been able to absorb in her first month on the job — and how much she hasn’t.

In a moment first highlighted by NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ on Twitter, Black declared, “The public school system in New York City has been unbelievably successful since the birth of our nation.” She was responding to a question from host Errol Louis about why she chose to send her children to private rather than public city schools.

Black did not elaborate, but the statement is confusing given that public schools in New York City did not emerge until the early 1800s.

Another moment of exposure had to do with teacher attrition. After a discussion about the “last in, first out” policy, Louis asked Black if she was concerned that almost half of New York City school teachers leave after 6 years in the classroom (PDF link).

Here’s how Black responded:

Well you have to know, like, what’s really at the heart of the issue. I don’t know that we know what’s really at the heart of the issue. Teaching is a hard job. We want the ones who are committed. We want the ones who make a difference. We want the ones who want to work hard and really change the lives of these young people. They’re there on a mission. So, you know, some are going to leave.

She then returned to the “last in, first out” question, arguing that perhaps teachers would be less likely to leave if they weren’t concerned about being laid off. “Right now there have to be a lot of teachers thinking, ‘Maybe I don’t have a job next year.’ Can we afford to have thousands of teachers think to themselves, ‘I have to leave the system now because I may not have a job in a few months?’ That’s going to be a catastrophe,” she said.

For years, researchers have asked why teachers leave schools — particularly struggling schools. A 2007 paper by a group studying New York City teachers, the Teacher Pathways Project, summarized the major findings this way:

  • “Teachers are more likely to stay in schools in which student achievement is higher and teachers — especially white teachers — are more likely to stay in schools with higher proportions of white students.”
  • “Teachers who score higher on tests of academic achievement are more likely to leave,” as are teachers from out of town.
  • Less-qualified teachers are more likely to stay at a school than teachers with higher qualifications, “especially if they teach in low-achieving schools.”

The researchers themselves — a team from Stanford and the University of Albany — wondered how attrition related to teachers’ effectiveness at improving student achievement. Maybe the turnover wouldn’t be so upsetting if the teachers leaving were also the teachers who were least effective.

Studying New York City schools between 2000 and 2006, the group found that less-upsetting possibility was indeed true, but only in part. After a year of teaching, the most effective teachers were more likely to stay put than the least effective teachers, as judged by value-added measures. But after another year or two, more effective teachers’ next moves depended on the quality of their schools. If they taught at low-performing schools, they tended to leave them, on average, for higher-performing schools.

Here’s a link to the paper I’m drawing from (note it’s a PDF).

A final noteworthy moment came when Louis asked Black about the report out this week from the Independent Budget Office, which found that schools slated for closure served a more troubled student population. Were those school being treated unfairly?

Black’s response:

I would differ with the statement DOE sent you a problem. We have seen in several situations same neighborhood, same children, same problems same situations. When we re-do the whole structure — the physical outside stays the same, new schools go inside — this group of kids and this group of kids are performing better — 20 and 30 percentage points better. Nothing has been changed on the outside except for the level of commitemnt and teachng and effectiveness that’s going to hopefully impact that child in a positive way.

Watch the full interview online here.