doomsday prophecy

Walcott outlines cuts that could take place without an eval deal

If the city and its teachers union do not agree soon on new teacher evaluations, class sizes will likely rise, teacher training suffer, after-school activities be eliminated, and guidance counselors cut, Chancellor Dennis Walcott predicted this morning.

Walcott spelled out the doomsday scenario during a brief talk about teacher evaluations at the Manhattan Institute this morning. He said he had called UFT President Michael Mulgrew — at 7:50 a.m. today — to say he wanted to conclude negotiations by Dec. 21, or two weeks from Friday and the last regular workday before Christmas.

Reaching an agreement by Dec. 21 would give state education officials, who have expressed increasing anxiety about the city’s timeline, nearly a month to review the plan and request any necessary adjustments before a deadline that Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last January.

State education law requires that districts adopt new evaluation systems when they next negotiate contracts with their teachers unions. But Cuomo vowed to withhold increases in state school aid from districts that do not have evaluation systems in place by Jan. 17, 2013.

In a statement, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said there was no need to commit to a Dec. 21 agreement and said politics were again impeding the union’s good-faith effort to negotiate new evaluations.

“Rather than establishing bogus deadlines and threatening parents with the loss of teachers and services, they should be focusing on reaching an agreement that will actually help make the schools better,” Mulgrew said about city officials.

The $250 million that Walcott said is on the line represents 4 percent of the nearly $8 billion that the city’s schools receive from the state each year. It represents a far smaller share — about 1 percent — of the city Department of Education’s total operating budget, which is about $23 billion annually.

Still, the amount is larger than in most rounds of budget cuts that the Department of Education has experienced in recent years. Those budget cuts led to a reduction in the city’s teaching force, larger classes in all grades, and cuts to extracurricular programming, according to a union survey conducted last year.

Exactly when and how deep the state’s cuts would come is not totally clear, but city Department of Education officials said the funds are already included in this year’s school budgets and would be cut midyear without a deal. Midyear budget cuts are doubly disruptive to schools because most expenses are fixed for the whole year, meaning that only certain costs, such as after-school programs or tutoring, can go on the chopping block right away.

Lawyers familiar with school funding are looking into questions about whether Cuomo can legally withhold the funds, according to David Sciarra, a lawyer who is representing city parents and advocates in a renewed push to secure funds for high-needs districts that the courts have said the state must provide.

But even if the threat turns out to be legal, it is unsavory, Sciarra said.

“At the same time that the state has walked away from its obligation to fairly fund the poorest schools in our state, including the schools here, to then turn around and use the threat of withholding funding for those very same programs that kids need — frankly it’s unconscionable,” he said.

Sciarra noted that the federal government is allowed to withhold Title I funding from states that do not comply with its mandates. But, he said, “they never do that, because they know when they cut that funding, the kids and schools that would be hurt the most are the most at-risk.”

Here’s what Walcott said in his Manhattan Institute speech about the possible consequences to city schools of losing out on the increased school aid:

While we will look for savings centrally, as we always do, we know we will not be able to absorb the entire $250 million.

If we can’t reach an agreement with the UFT, we will be forced to pass some cuts on to schools.

At this point, any cut to our schools is too much, especially when you consider the structure of our schools’ budgets.

Schools spend over 95% on personnel costs and the majority of the remainder on direct student services.

Any cuts will undermine exactly what we are trying to achieve – providing meaningful support and development opportunities to our educators and rigorous instructional programming to our students.

While principals would make final decisions about how to absorb budget reductions, we would expect that cuts would lead to fewer teachers being hired, which will probably lead to larger class sizes.

We would expect the elimination of professional development opportunities for staff and cuts to cherished after school activities such as music, art, and sports for students.

We would expect substantial reductions in guidance counselors, social workers, and other support staff who play a key role in our children’s social and emotional development.

We would expect schools to stop purchasing instructional materials such a library books and educational software.

This is an unfortunate reality and these cuts would be painful.

By the numbers

NYC announces it will subsidize hiring from Absent Teacher Reserve — and sheds light on who is in the pool

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman

Ever since the city announced a new policy for placing teachers without permanent positions into schools, Chalkbeat and others have been asking questions about just who is in the pool, known as the Absent Teacher Reserve.

Now we have some answers.

The education department released figures on Friday that show a quarter of teachers currently in the the pool were also there five years ago, and a third ended up in the ATR because of disciplinary or legal issues. The average salary for teachers this past year was $94,000, according to the data.

The city also said it would extend budget incentives for schools that hire educators from the ATR, a change to its initial announcement. Principals have raised concerns about the cost of hiring from the ATR, since its members tend to be more senior, and therefore more expensive, than new teachers.

The ATR is comprised of teachers who don’t have regular positions, either because their jobs were eliminated or because of disciplinary issues. It cost almost $152 million in the last school year — far more than previously estimated — and currently stands at 822 teachers.

In July, the city announced a plan to cut the pool in half by placing teachers into vacancies still open after the new school year begins — even potentially over principals’ objection.

Critics have argued that the city’s new placement policy could place ineffective teachers in the neediest classrooms. StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis called the move “shockingly irresponsible” in a statement.

“There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple,” she said.

But Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School who is now responsible for helping to shrink the pool, called the new policy “a common sense approach to treating ATR teachers like all other teachers,” since they now have the opportunity to be evaluated by a school principal.

Here’s what the latest numbers tell us about who is in the pool.

How did educators end up in the Absent Teacher Reserve?

Most of the educators in the ATR were placed there because their schools had closed (38 percent) or due to budget cuts (30 percent.)

Another 32 percent entered the pool because of a legal or disciplinary case.

How effective are they?

A majority — 74 percent — received an evaluation rating of “highly effective,” “effective” or “satisfactory” in 2015-16, the most current year available. Current ratings for teachers citywide were not immediately available, but in 2014-15, 93 percent of teachers overall were rated effective or highly effective, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a “developing” rating, one step up from ineffective.

Some teachers in the ATR say evaluations can be unfair since teachers are often placed in classrooms outside of the subjects they are equipped to teach and because they are bounced between classrooms.

Asked whether teachers with poor ratings would be placed in classrooms, Asher said “all” teachers in the ATR have traditionally been placed in school assignments.

“They’re in schools, no matter what. It’s a question of what is their role in the school, and how are they supported and evaluated,” he said. “Obviously we will look at each individual teacher and each individual assignment on a case-by-case basis.”

How experienced are they?

Teachers in the ATR have an average of 18 years of experience with the education department, and earn an average salary of $94,000. By comparison, the base salary for a New York City teacher as of May 2017 was $54,000.

How long have they been in the pool?

Almost half the educators who are currently in the pool were also there two years ago. A quarter were in the ATR five years ago. That doesn’t mean that teachers have remained in the ATR for that entire time. They could have been hired for a time, and returned to the pool.

Still, the figures could be fuel for those who argue educators in the ATR either aren’t seriously looking for permanent jobs — or that the educators in the pool are simply undesirable hires.

How will schools pay for them?

Teachers in the ATR have argued that their higher salaries are one reason principals avoid hiring them — a concern that principals voiced in a recent Chalkbeat report.

“This is part of the injustice of the ATR placement,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “Schools might not want them and they will cost schools more in the future, taking away from other budget priorities.”

Under the policy announced Friday, the education department will subsidize the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired, paying 50 percent of their salaries next school year and 25 percent the following school year.

Where have they worked previously?

This question is important because the answer gives a sense of where educators in the ATR are likely to be placed this fall. The education department’s original policy called for an educator to be placed within the same district they left, but the change announced in July allowed for placement anywhere within the same borough.

Almost half of ATR members, as of June 2016-17, came from high schools. That isn’t surprising: Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein targeted large high schools for closure, breaking them up into smaller schools as part of a turnaround strategy.

Of the school districts serving K- 8 students, District 19 in Brooklyn’s East New York and District 24 in Queens had among the most educators in the ATR. Each had 26.

What subjects do they teach?

The largest share of teachers in the ATR — 27 percent — are licensed to teach in early childhood or elementary school grades. Another 11 percent are licensed social studies teachers, 9 percent are math teachers and 8 percent are English teachers.

Questions have been raised in the past about whether the teachers in the pool had skills that were too narrow or out of date. A 2010 Chalkbeat story found that a quarter of teachers then in the pool were licensed to teach relatively obscure classes like swimming, jewelry-making and accounting.

Training teachers

More literacy coaches to bolster Tennessee’s drive to boost student reading

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

More than half of its school districts signed on last year when Tennessee created a network of literacy coaches to help classroom teachers improve their students’ reading.

Now entering the program’s second year, another 16 districts are joining up. That means two-thirds of Tennessee districts will have instructional supports in place aimed at addressing the state’s lackluster reading levels.

Tennessee has a reading problem. Less than half of its students in grades 3-8 were considered proficient in 2015, the last year for which test scores are available. In Memphis, the numbers are even more stunning. Less than a third of Shelby County Schools’ third-graders are reading on grade level.

PHOTO: Marta W. Aldrich
Gov. Bill Haslam speaks during the statewide launch of Read to be Ready in 2016.

The state wants to get 75 percent of third-graders proficient by 2025. (New scores coming out this fall will help track progress.)

The coaching network is a major component of Tennessee’s Read to be Ready drive, launched in 2016 by Gov. Bill Haslam and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. The focus is helping teachers improve literacy instruction for the state’s youngest students.

So far, some 200 coaches have worked directly with more than 3,000 teachers in 83 districts, including all four urban districts. This fall, 99 out of the state’s 146 school systems will participate.

About 92 percent of classroom teachers report that coaching is improving their teaching, even as many coaches say they are stretched too thin, according to a state report released Wednesday. Inadequate planning time for teachers is another barrier to success, the report notes.

To join the coaching network, districts must commit to funding a reading coach who will support about 15 teachers. New districts signing up this year are:

  • Scott County Schools
  • Smith County School System
  • Pickett County Schools
  • Jackson County Schools
  • Macon County Schools
  • Clay County Schools
  • Sumner County Schools
  • Dyer County Schools
  • Wayne County Schools
  • Bedford County Schools
  • Benton County Schools
  • Alamo City School
  • Polk County Schools
  • Kingsport City Schools
  • Oak Ridge Schools
  • Dayton City School

A complete list of participating districts can be found here.