please sir

NYC teacher discipline model praised, but Walcott seeks change

The city needs changes in state law to speed and ease teacher firing procedures, Chancellor Dennis Walcott told members of the State Senate in Albany today. He asked legislators to change who judges teacher discipline cases and also the legal standard those cases must meet.

Yet the city’s rules are actually the toughest in the state and in many ways are a model for reform, state and union officials told the senators during a hearing on the state’s 3020-a process, the legal process that governs the discipline of tenured teachers. Districts that want to terminate a tenured teacher must prove their case in a 3020-a hearing.

The hearings process has long been seen as unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive. Statewide, cases routinely take as long as two years to be resolved and some principals choose not to bring cases against teachers rather than have to take on the long and burdensome 3020-a process, senators said.

“I really haven’t met anyone who thinks it’s going swimmingly,” said State Sen. John Flanagan, who convened the hearing.

Until recently, New York City was a case study for how 3020-a hearings could drag on. By last summer, the city was paying more than 700 teachers under investigation to report each day to “rubber rooms.” But after Mayor Bloomberg turned his attention to the rubber rooms, the city and teachers union reached an agreement to close them by speeding up the hearing schedule, paying neutral arbitrators to work more days, and rotating cases randomly among the arbitrators.

The backlog was cleared of all but 16 cases in just four months, by the end of 2010, and the accelerated timeline remains in place.

Valerie Grey, the State Education Department’s chief operating officer, cited New York City’s experience to prove that the timeline set forth in the current 3020-a regulations, which suggests five months from when a teacher is charged to when his or her case is resolved, is reasonable.

“New York City did it in four months,” Grey said. “It can be done.”

But Walcott said today that additional changes would streamline the hearing process further. “Even with that resolution 3020-a remains a cumbersome process,” he said. “We need a system that is fair, cost-effective, speedy, and the results are consistent.”

Describing two teachers who faced similar charges but received different penalties after two different arbitrators heard their cases, Walcott focused his proposals for change on a desire for more consistent outcomes of teacher discipline trials. The best way to improve consistency, he said, would be for the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings to take over 3020-a hearings from the independent arbitrators. OATH currently decides disciplinary cases against employees of other city departments, as well as MTA employees. With a salaried, full-time set of lawyers judging teacher discipline cases, costs would be contained and a uniform standard for judgement could be applied, Walcott said.

City officials have long pushed OATH in discussions with the union, United Federation of Teachers spokesman Dick Riley said. A DOE spokeswoman, Barbara Morgan, declined to comment, saying that negotiations with the union are confidential.

The union will not accept using OATH officers instead of impartial hearing offers, testified Carol Gerstel, the UFT’s chief counsel.

“We don’t think that hearing officers who are employees of the City of New York are ones that our members would feel comfortable that they were getting an impartial decision,” she said. “We think that a fair and expeditious process can be had using impartial arbitrators — hearing officers — as we are doing in the city right now.”

Walcott also asked lawmakers to change the law so that instead of the city having to prove it has “just cause” to remove a teacher, teachers would have to prove that their discipline was “arbitrary and capricious.” The city included this change in a list of contract demands that was leaked last year.

“He would get consistent decisions, because everybody would get terminated because the people who are bringing the charges will be upheld unless they are arbitrary and capricious — a very difficult standard to reach,” Gerstel said.

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.