UFT president says he’ll fight mayor’s new proposals

More than week after Mayor Bloomberg handed Chancellor Joel Klein a to-do list of items anathema to the teachers union, UFT president Michael Mulgrew is promising a fight.

In an email sent to United Federation of Teachers members this afternoon, Mulgrew said the mayor’s proposals will “damage the schools and the children of this city.” Though the subject matter is well-covered ground, the tone is angrier than usual and there’s a sense that the UFT has been badly burned.

Bloomberg’s announcement, which came mid-UFT contract negotiations, has “raised the temperature” of contract talks,” a source said.

Referring to Bloomberg’s directive to Klein to use test scores in teacher tenure decisions this year, Mulgrew writes that the UFT was already working with the city and the Gates Foundation on a teacher quality study.

“Chancellor Klein was supposed to be our partner in this potentially much more effective approach.”

In the letter, Mulgrew also blames the Department of Education for mismanaging the city’s rubber rooms and pool of excessed teachers, which the mayor has proposed to reduce through layoffs of teachers who’ve been in the pool for more than a year.

He calls Bloomberg’s proposals “simplistic” and “sheer fantasy.”

A response to the letter from DOE spokesman David Cantor follows Mulgrew’s letter.

Dear colleagues:

New York City’s students deserve a high quality education.  What’s more, the students deserve and their parents expect that their mayor and their schools’ chancellor will use their power to enact real reforms and overcome obstacles to learning.

Unfortunately, Mayor Bloomberg’s recent speech in Washington, D.C. did nothing to help meet these goals.

As New York prepares to compete for federal “Race to the Top” incentive funds, all stakeholders in the public schools should be working together to best position us to win this precious new resource. But Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have chosen to focus on and promote fake reforms, simplistic “solutions” and sheer fantasy as the answer to our schools’ problems.

Let’s start with some of the issues you as educators know full well.

ATRs: Hundreds of our teachers are now working in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), a pool of educators whose schools or programs have been downsized or closed.  There is no better example of the Department of Education’s mismanagement and failed leadership than this group of dedicated and experienced teachers.

When the ATR pool was created we warned the DOE that faulty implementation of the process would leave hundreds or even thousands of teachers without permanent assignments.  Our warning went unheeded and our prediction has been proven correct. Recently we joined with the DOE to create a policy that in similar circumstances was remarkably successful – the assignment of teachers displaced by the reorganization of alternative high schools to a school with vacancies, subject to approval by both the teacher and the principal.  The DOE has not only rejected our recommendation to expand this to all districts, it has not made substantial efforts to place ATRs;  it has refused to schedule school interviews for them;  it has also demonized them in the press, making it difficult for many to find permanent jobs.  Meanwhile, the department’s continued hiring of new teachers, including paying bonuses to recruiters, has made a bad situation even worse.

Now, when the DOE’s own data has shown dramatic increases in class sizes, it is unconscionable that the system allows over 1,000 teachers now working as substitutes rather than to help bring class sizes down.  This is an inexcusable waste of human capital and mismanagement of resources.

Rubber Rooms:  If the DOE’s ATR policy is the leading example of management ineptitude, the so-called “rubber rooms” are a close second.

We work with children, and we agree that we must err on the side of caution to protect children.  Accusations may lead to people being temporarily removed from their schools while the investigation takes place. But no reasonable observer could find any reason other than gross mismanagement for leaving teachers to sit in rubber rooms without charges for months, or even years at a time.

On average, teachers now wait in excess of 200 days while allegations undergo an initial investigation – all without any formal charges.  There is no reason these investigations can’t be completed in 30 to 60 days, at the maximum.

The rubber room debacle has been wholly created under the stewardship of Chancellor Klein.  Under prior Chancellors, educators who had been removed from classrooms worked in office or non-teaching positions where they could make some contribution to the system during investigations.  That policy should be reinstated.

The rubber rooms do not work for the students or the teachers in NYC, and we have always stood ready to fix them.  Contrary to the picture the Mayor and Chancellor have painted for tabloid editorial pages, the UFT has met with the DOE on numerous occasions to try to make the necessary changes and expedite this process.  But the administration has preferred to grandstand on this issue rather than solve it.

Student test scores:  The idea of using student scores as the principal means to evaluate teachers is a classic political crowd-pleasing stunt. Unfortunately, as anyone who really understands education knows, it’s a cheap shot.

Study after study has shown that tests cover too narrow a field, and there are too many variables in a child’s life, school and classroom, from poverty to health issues to class size, to use one year’s test scores as reliable indicator of student success, much less the success of their teachers.

The Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Merryl Tisch, and the New York State Commissioner of Education, David Steiner, have both said that the current state tests are in effect a broken measurement tool.  Preliminary results comparing the state math scores to the most reliable national test have raised grave questions about their reliability of the state tests, and our members know that the focus on these tests has led to a misguided “teach to the test” approach rather than system-wide academic improvement. In addition, the DOE’s school progress reports, based on the state tests, are highly flawed and questioned by everyone.

We have been working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to create a valid, credible and measurable process that would capture the complexities of classroom teaching.  Chancellor Klein was supposed to be our partner in this potentially much more effective approach.

The real problems: At a time when the economy has decimated our city and state budgets, it was the UFT that sounded the alarm about schools being harmed by education budget cuts at the opening of the academic year.  We were the ones who rallied parents, education advocates and community organizations in a successful effort that stopped midyear reductions that would have cut services that schools and children are already receiving this year.

The members of the United Federation of Teachers have always been willing to work constructively with anyone who seeks to improve our schools and help children learn.  But we will fight — with all the resources at our command — anyone whose policies will damage the schools and the children of this city.


Michael Mulgrew


From David Cantor:

“The mayor put forward bold proposals to help New York City win President Obama’s Race to the Top competition, which will provide badly needed funds for our schools and students. While reforming some of these failed practices may make some of our partners uncomfortable, we need to do everything we can to draw down these dollars for the city’s school children.”

To and Through

Newark’s post-grad paradox: More students are entering college, but few earn degrees

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wants 25 percent of residents to have college degrees by 2025, up from 19 percent today.

When it comes to college, Newark faces a good news-bad news paradox.

More students than ever are graduating high school and enrolling in college, according to a new report. Yet fewer than one in four Newark students earns a college degree within six years of graduating high school — leaving many with limited job prospects in a city where an estimated one-third of jobs require a four-year college degree.

Now, city officials are promising to build on the report. They want to ramp up the rigor of high-school classes and create more early-college programs to increase the odds of students entering college and leaving with a degree.  

“How do we teach our children to perform — to graduate?” Mayor Ras Baraka asked at a press conference Wednesday to mark the official release of the report of Newark students’ college outcomes. “We got them in the door,” he said of students who attend college. “Now how do we make them stay?”

The city’s plans, to which Superintendent Roger León is lending his support, reflect a growing recognition that simply getting students into college is not sufficient — and can even backfire if they drop out before graduation, leaving them with college debt but no degree.

Until recently, the charge given to high schools in Newark and across the country was to foster “college-going cultures.” And these efforts showed promising results: On average, 51 percent of Newark Public School students who graduated high school between 2011 and 2016 immediately enrolled in college, up from 39 percent who did so between 2004 and 2010, according to the report by the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, or NCLC, and Rutgers University-Newark’s School of Public Affairs and Administration.

But entering college didn’t guarantee its completion. Of those students who started college straight after high school, only 39 percent earned a degree within six years, the report found.

As a result, educators and policymakers have begun to think harder about how to help students “to and through” college — to ensure they actually earn degrees. Toward that end, Baraka and the NCLC — which includes roughly 40 colleges, schools, nonprofits, and corporations — has set a goal of 25 percent of Newark residents earning college degrees or comparable credentials by 2025.

Today, just 19 percent of Newark adults have associate degrees or higher — compared to 45 percent of adults across New Jersey and 40 percent nationally.

Superintendent León, who began overseeing the city’s schools on July 1, said his main strategy for supporting these efforts will be to expose students to challenging work early on.

“If we don’t do something dramatically in classrooms to improve instruction and make it rigorous,” León said after Wednesday’s event, then students are “getting into college but they’re not completing it.”

Source: “Post-Secondary Outcomes of Newark High School Graduates (2011-2016)” report. Note: The four-year rate is an average of the classes of 2011 to 2013. The six-year rate is from the class of 2011. Graphic: Sam Park/Chalkbeat

For starters, León said he wants high schools to offer more college-level classes. In the 2016-17 school year, just 21 percent of Newark students were enrolled in one or more Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes — compared to 42 percent of students statewide.

He also vowed to raise the quality of instruction in the district’s traditional high schools. Only 14 percent of their graduates earn college degrees within six years, compared to 42 percent of graduates from the city’s selective magnet schools, the report found.

To do that, León said he will create specialized academies within the traditional schools modeled on the magnets, which have specialized themes such as science, technology, or the arts. The academies, which will partner with colleges, will most likely feature admissions criteria similar to those of magnet schools, which select students based on their academic and attendance records, León added.

And, for the first time, all ninth-grade students this academic year will take the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, León said Wednesday. An additional 1,100 eighth-graders who passed at least one of their seventh-grade PARCC exams will also take the PSAT when it’s administered on Oct. 10.

Since 2016, the district has provided the PSAT to all 10th and 11th-grade students. But León said that giving the test to younger students will focus their attention on college and help identity those who are ready for advanced classes. The PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT, which is used in college admissions, and to qualify for National Merit Scholarships.

The district, which was under state control for 22 years until February, is getting some assistance in its effort to improve students’ college outcomes.

For instance, KIPP, the national charter-school network with eight schools in Newark, is sharing its strategies for helping students choose the right college with guidance counselors at three district high schools.

And the higher-education institutions in the Newark City of Learning Collaborative, including Essex County College and Rutgers University-Newark, plan to create more “dual-enrollment” programs that allow high-school students to earn college credits, said NCLC Executive Director Reginald Lewis.

“We’re all going to do a better job,” Lewis said, “of making sure that once Newark residents get in our doors, that we help them persist.”

Time crunch

In victory for teachers union, Newark superintendent scraps longer hours for low-performing schools

PHOTO: Patrick Wall/Chalkbeat
Superintendent Roger León at Hawkins Street School, one of the schools that will lose its extended hours.

Newark’s new superintendent is eliminating a program that extended the hours of struggling schools, which the teachers union has long attacked as ineffective and unfair to educators.

Teachers at roughly 30 schools will no longer receive $3,000 annual stipends for the extra hours, a provision written into the current teachers contract, which extends to 2019. Instead, all 64 district schools will get extra funding for before and after-school programs, Superintendent Roger León said in an email to employees on Tuesday.

The changes will go into effect Monday, Sept. 10, resulting in new hours for the affected schools just days after the new school year began. The district is still working to adjust pickup times for students who are bused to school, according to León’s email. A few of the schools will phase out their extended hours later in the year, the email said.

“We will not continue to do the same things as before and be surprised when the results do not change,” León wrote, adding that cutting the extra hours would save the district $5 million.

In an interview with Chalkbeat Thursday, León said the move is intended to create more uniformity among schools and the services they provide. Now, all schools will get additional money to pay for programs outside of the regular school day, which schools can tailor to their individual needs, though students who are struggling academically will continue to receive “intensive” support, he said.

“Ultimately, the idea would be by October having completely different after-school and before-school programming that meets the needs of each respective school,” León said.

The extended time was first included in the teachers contract in 2012 as part of a larger improvement plan for the targeted schools, which was developed by Cami Anderson, Newark’s former state-appointed superintendent. The plan also designated some low-performing schools as “renew” schools, where teachers had to reapply for their positions and work longer hours.

Anderson also closed some schools and gave principals new hiring authority. Both actions left dozens of tenured teachers without positions, so Anderson created a fund to pay those teachers to perform support duties in schools. In 2014, that fund for “employees without placement” cost the district $35 million out of its nearly $1 billion budget, though by last year the fund had shrunk to $8 million for about 100 unassigned teachers, according to officials.

León said in Tuesday’s email that he was also eliminating the fund, which he said would save the district another $6 million. The teachers union president said he believed all the unassigned teachers now have placements, but the district did not respond to a request to confirm that.

León is also removing the “renew” and “turnaround” labels from low-performing schools, citing their “progress and student achievement,” according to the email.

“I applaud everyone’s efforts at renew or turnaround schools and acknowledge what has been accomplished,” he wrote.

Now that León has abolished his predecessors’ school-improvement program, he will be expected to create his own. Many schools remain mired in poor performance, even as the district overall has made strides in recent years.

When the teachers union agreed to the extended hours in its 2012 contract with the district, it was hailed nationally as a major breakthrough in efforts to revamp troubled schools. But even as the union agreed last year to keep the provision in its current contract, union officials have assailed the turnaround effort as a failure.

NTU President John Abeigon told Chalkbeat on Thursday that the program had been a “scam” and “nothing more than extended childcare.” He added that the stipend teachers received amounted to about $7 per hour for the extra time they worked.

In 2016, a district-commissioned survey of 787 teachers at schools with extended hours found that two-thirds of teachers at schools where the extra time was spent on student instruction said the time was valuable. But in a survey the union conducted in April, the 278 teachers who responded gave the extended hours low ratings for effectiveness in boosting student achievement.

Some teachers in the union survey praised the longer hours, saying their schools used them effectively to lengthen class periods, run after-school clubs, or allow teachers to plan lessons or review student data. But others said the extra time was squandered, leaving staff and students exhausted with little evidence of improved student outcomes to show for it. (Students’ pass rates on state tests stayed flat or declined at most “renew” schools in the first years of the program.)

The union also has complained that many teachers felt compelled to work the extra hours because those who refused to could be transferred to different schools. Under the terms of the original extended-day agreement, teachers were required to work an extra hour per day and attend trainings during the summer and some weekends.

In León’s email to employees, he said every extended-day school had set different work requirements and “none are consistent with the original design.” The longer days may also be contributing to high teacher turnover in those schools, he wrote, adding that principals of schools with regular hours told him they did not want to extend their hours.

Abeigon, the union president, applauded León’s decision to scrap the extra work hours.

“He came to the conclusion that we expected any true educator to reach: that the program was not working and was never going to work,” he said.

León said Thursday that he is now working on a new turnaround program. Once it’s ready, he promised to share the details with affected families before publicly announcing which schools are part of it — an effort to avoid the student protests that erupted when Anderson identified her “turnaround” schools.

He also said he was still considering whether he would ever close schools that fail to improve or to reverse their declining enrollments. Anderson’s decision to shutter nearly a dozen long-struggling schools continues to fuel resentment among her critics even years later.

“I think the whole idea of how much time does a school get to correct itself is a very important one and I’m going to need to be really reflective on it,” León said. “I’ve seen what closing schools does with people who do not feel that they were aware of it or a part of fixing it.”