a whole new law

Coalition recommends laser focus on academics in state’s accountability system

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede

A new coalition is urging the state to keep hard academic indicators front and center when judging schools — a counterbalance to some options state officials have been exploring.

Under a new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, states have more flexibility to define what makes a school effective. So far, under the state’s draft guiding principles, officials appear eager to explore new options for rating schools, and committed to “multiple measures of progress and growth.”

But a policy brief released Tuesday by Education Trust and co-signed by a dozen advocacy groups, strikes a different tone. Its first principle — “make the main thing the main thing” — implores state officials to keep their eye on academic achievement and look at a “limited” number of other indicators.

“There have been a lot of conversations about standards and about assessments and about how we measure the effectiveness of schools,” said Ian Rosenblum, the founding executive director of EdTrust-NY. “We believe that if we don’t establish strong expectations for all students … then we’re not going to be able to improve equity and opportunity to students.”

This brief is part of a larger battle over the direction of state education policy. Though state officials have signaled a willingness to rethink policies that rely heavily on standardized test scores, groups like Education Trust caution there is danger in straying too far from current indicators.

Here are a few key areas of the report, which you can read here.

Do not adopt too many accountability indicators. The policy brief urges the state to use the “fewest possible” indicators and to “heavily weight” English and math proficiency. It offers some alternatives to academic indicators, such as chronic absenteeism or student suspensions, but emphasizes standard academics over “multiple measures.”

Do not replace overall school ratings with a “dashboard.” The policy brief argues that each school should have one overall rating, even if it is used in addition to a set of other measures to judge schools. The recommendation comes one week after the state’s Board of Regents listened to a presentation from Stanford professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who expressed support for a “dashboard” approach to rating schools, closer to New York City’s current system, which breaks ratings down into components.

Ensure that academic measures together represent 75 percent of each school’s rating. That percentage is key to making sure the state remembers “what matters most” when evaluating students, the report says. In its draft guiding principles, the state did not specify how much academic indicators might be weighted in each school’s rating, though all states are required to give academic factors the most weight under the law.

Include college and career readiness as a new indicator of school quality or student success. The report suggests judging schools based on enrollment and success in advanced classes. That’s not far from the state’s guiding principles, which also reference having access to advanced classes, and possibly rating schools based on how students succeed in postsecondary education.

Officials are still in the process of putting together a set of recommendations. “These are draft guiding principles which we have been seeking comment on; they are not yet official Board of Regents policy,” a said a State Education Department spokesperson in an email. He added that “all academic subjects” would be part of the accountability system, along with “non-academic measures of school quality and student success.”

The state has convened a think tank with dozens of organizations to get input from education leaders across the state. Rosenblum said his coalition intentionally released its report before any state measures were finalized.

We “wanted to do it before the Regents put out their initial framework because we wanted to provide input in the process,” Rosenblum said. “I think it’s too early to know for sure where the state is heading.”

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.

share your story

Teachers: How does your district handle family leave? How did it affect your life?

PHOTO: Logan Zabel

New York City is in the news because a petition there is calling for the city to create paid family leave for teachers, who currently must use accrued sick days if they have a child and are limited to six paid weeks off.

Chalkbeat wants to know: How do other districts and schools compare? What implications do these policies have for educators and their families?

If you have an experience to share, or can simply explain how this works where you work, please tell us here. Your answers will help guide our reporting.