settling scores

To clear rubber rooms, city and union are settling more cases

In the hustle to clear the rubber rooms by the end of the year, the city is mainly settling with teachers charged with infractions — not firing them.

Numbers released by the teachers union today show that in the last six months, the city has cleared nearly half the cases of teachers awaiting trial. The number of teachers charged with misconduct or incompetence has gone from nearly 300 to about 170 since April, when the city and union announced a deal to expedite hearings. (The city, which keeps separate records, reported slightly different numbers.) Union officials said today that most of these cases have been settled by having teachers retire, resign, or pay fines.

One reason the number of settlements is on the rise is that the city has a newfound willingness to settle cases rather than take them through lengthy and costly hearings. Ridding schools of inept teachers has been a priority for the city’s Department of Education, but progress has been slow and very few teachers have been successfully fired for incompetence.

The new rubber room deal has also contributed to the increase in settlements by putting teachers and arbitrators through a pre-hearing mediation process with settlement as the hoped-for outcome. According to union officials, between 20 and 30 cases have been settled through mediation in the last few weeks.

A union official said that it was always possible for the city and union to reach settlements quickly, but prior to the rubber room deal, the city had no interest in expediting the process. He added that teachers who were nearing retirement had no incentive to settle, either. Some chose to prolong their cases and wait in rubber rooms so they could collect their pensions when they hit retirement age, the official said.

How the cases are being settled has not changed significantly. Last school year, 20 teachers retired, 40 resigned, and 88 paid fines and were returned to the classroom. The year before, 34 retired, 22 resigned, and 66 paid fines, according to the union. Others have been suspended, though the union would not release that number.

There are still many teachers — about 250 — who are under investigation and have yet to be charged. Come September, many of them will be placed in administrative positions in schools while their cases wind through the new system.

Misconduct cases:
On or awaiting trail 12/31/09 —  214
On or awaiting trial 7/12/10 — 130 (the city puts this number at 170)
(counts 21 new cases that arrived in late May or June)

Competency cases:
On or waiting trial 12/31/09 — 60
On or awaiting trial 7/12/10 — 40
(counts 10 new cases that arrived in late May or June)

Cases settled (by suspension, retirement, resignation, fine, etc)
2008-09 school year — 134 (the city puts this number at 185)
2009-10 school year — 167 (the city puts this number at 200)

In 08-09 — 34 retirements, 22 resignations, 60 fines
In 09-10 — 20 retirements, 40 resignations, 88 fines

that was weird

The D.C. school system had a pitch-perfect response after John Oliver made #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter

Public education got some unexpected attention Sunday night when John Oliver asked viewers watching the Emmys to make #DCPublicSchools trend on Twitter.

Oliver had been inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, who shouted out the school system he attended before he announced an award winner. Within a minute of Oliver’s request, the hashtag was officially trending.

Most of the tweets had nothing to do with schools in Washington, D.C.

Here are a few that did, starting with this pitch-perfect one from the official D.C. Public Schools account:

Oliver’s surreal challenge was far from the first time that the late-show host has made education a centerpiece of his comedy — over time, he has pilloried standardized testing, school segregation, and charter schools.

Nor was it the first education hashtag to take center stage at an awards show: #PublicSchoolProud, which emerged as a response to new U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, got a shoutout during the Oscars in February.

And it also is not the first time this year that D.C. schools have gotten a surprise burst of attention. The Oscars were just a week after DeVos drew fire for criticizing the teachers she met during her first school visit as secretary — to a D.C. public school.

Startup Support

Diverse charter schools in New York City to get boost from Walton money

PHOTO: John Bartelstone
Students at Brooklyn Prospect Charter School in 2012. The school is one of several New York City charters that aim to enroll diverse student bodies.

The Walton Family Foundation, the philanthropy governed by the family behind Walmart, pledged Tuesday to invest $2.2 million over the next two years in new charter schools in New York City that aim to be socioeconomically diverse.

Officials from the foundation expect the initiative to support the start of about seven mixed-income charter schools, which will be able to use the money to pay for anything from building space to teachers to technology.

The effort reflects a growing interest in New York and beyond in establishing charter schools that enroll students from a mix of backgrounds, which research suggests can benefit students and is considered one remedy to school segregation.

“We are excited to help educators and leaders on the front lines of solving one of today’s most pressing education challenges,” Marc Sternberg, the foundation’s K-12 education director and a former New York City education department official, said in a statement.

Walton has been a major charter school backer, pouring more than $407 million into hundreds of those schools over the past two decades. In New York, the foundation has helped fund more than 100 new charter schools. (Walton also supports Chalkbeat; read about our funding here.)

Some studies have found that black and Hispanic students in charter schools are more likely to attend predominantly nonwhite schools than their peers in traditional schools, partly because charter schools tend to be located in urban areas and are often established specifically to serve low-income students of color. In New York City, one report found that 90 percent of charter schools in 2010 were “intensely segregated,” meaning fewer than 10 percent of their students were white.

However, more recently, a small but rising number of charter schools has started to take steps to recruit and enroll a more diverse student body. Often, they do this by drawing in applicants from larger geographic areas than traditional schools can and by adjusting their admissions lotteries to reserve seats for particular groups, such as low-income students or residents of nearby housing projects.

Founded in 2014, the national Diverse Charter Schools Coalition now includes more than 100 schools in more than a dozen states. Nine New York City charter groups are part of the coalition, ranging from individual schools like Community Roots Charter School in Brooklyn to larger networks, including six Success Academy schools.

“There’s been a real shift in the charter school movement to think about how they address the issue of segregation,” said Halley Potter, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that promotes socioeconomic diversity.

The Century Foundation and researchers at Teachers College at Columbia University and Temple University will receive additional funding from Walton to study diverse charter schools, with the universities’ researchers conducting what Walton says is the first peer-reviewed study of those schools’ impact on student learning.