pink slip priorities

Report calls for school districts to end seniority-based layoffs

School districts should abandon lay-off policies that require principals to dismiss the newest teachers first and instead incorporate measures of teacher quality into firing decisions, a new report out today from The New Teacher Project argues.

The report proposes a scorecard that would rank teachers, weighing their classroom management skills, attendance, performance evaluations and length of service to the district to determine who should be laid off. Under the group’s proposal, a teacher’s performance rating would be given the most weight, while his or her number of years served would count for only a tenth of their score.

By doing so, the report argues, school districts can avoid laying off their best teachers who may not have worked in the system the longest.

“Layoffs are not good for anyone, but they are worse when they result in the loss of top teachers,” the report states. “With so many jobs — and so many children’s futures — potentially at stake, districts and teachers unions must act now to reform these outdated rules so that schools will be able to hold on to their most effective teachers if layoffs become necessary.”

The report is based in part on a survey of 9,000 teachers in two large Midwestern city school districts (though the report does not name the districts, its description of the two districts seems to match Minneapolis and Detroit).

The survey asked teachers if they believed other factors besides seniority should be considered in layoff decisions. Around three-quarters of the teachers surveyed in both districts answered “yes.” Even among teachers with more than 30 years of experience in their district, more than half agreed that “additional factors should be considered” in excessing or firing criteria.

Eliminating the “last hired, first fired” requirement for excessing city teachers is one of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s major political priorities in education, and a change to the system is on the city’s teachers contract negotiations wish list.

Opponents of the mayor’s proposed changes, including the city teachers union, often attack the credibility of The New Teacher Project because of the group’s close ties to the Bloomberg administration. Dan Weisberg, the group’s vice president for policy, was formerly the Department of Education’s head labor negotiator, and the organization was founded by Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the D.C. school system whose reform goals frequently align with Klein’s.

“Asking the New Teacher Project about personnel policies is like asking Bernie Madoff for investment advice,” said UFT president Michael Mulgrew in a statement. “It is impossible for the New Teacher Project to be an objective voice of reason when they receive almost $5 million a year from the Department of Education.”

“Carefully omitted from their survey is the real option that teachers are afraid would be the most prominent factor in any non-seniority layoff decision — the whims of administrators who too often know less about education than the teachers they are supposed to be supervising,” Mulgrew said.

The survey did gauge teachers’ support for a number of other criteria that could be used for layoff decisions. In both districts, classroom management and teacher attendance rates garnered the most support from teachers. Around half of teachers in both districts also supported the use of “instructional performance based on evaluation rating” as a criteria, though far fewer listed “principal’s opinion” as a factor that should be used in layoff decisions.

Around half of teachers in one district, and 41 percent in the other, listed total years of teaching experience as a criteria they would support, but less than half of teachers surveyed in both cities chose length of service in their districts as a factor the believe should be considered.

The report does not wade into the murky waters of how effective classroom management skills and performance ratings should be determined. A report from The New Teacher Project released last year called most teacher evaluation programs “meaningless” because of the extraordinarily high numbers of teachers rated satisfactory. But efforts to evaluate teachers on other measures, including test scores, frequently draw fierce criticism from those who argue such factors are overly simplistic and unreliable.

Here is the full report:


To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Spokane, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.