draining the pool

New York City’s Absent Teacher Reserve is steadily decreasing, city says

Members of the Absent Teacher Reserve pool who did extensive job searches spoke at a press conference with then teachers union President Randi Weingarten at the start of the school year in 2009. (GothamSchools)

The pool of teachers collecting salaries and benefits without holding full-time positions shrunk by roughly 150 compared to this time last year, according to numbers released Thursday by the Department of Education.

The number stands at 1,304 this October — a decline driven by some teachers finding new jobs and others leaving the school system, city officials said. The size of the pool represents only a snapshot in time and fluctuates throughout the school year, but the Department of Education argues that, in the aggregate, the pool has been steadily decreasing.

“We must have a strong teacher in every classroom to provide an equitable and excellent education for all students,” said schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “We’re laser focused on ensuring this while reducing the ATR pool and costs for the city’s taxpayers.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city’s teachers union have vowed to reduce the number of teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, both by offering buyouts and by helping qualified teachers find jobs. The teachers union contract included provisions to help ATR teachers interview at schools and a buyout that 115 teachers and other staffers took.

A UFT spokesperson said Thursday that the decline in ATR pool represents a “joint effort” between the union and the Department of Education.

City officials said they could not pinpoint exactly how many teachers received new job placements versus how many left the system entirely. When they city last released ATR data in February, officials reported they had successfully placed 500 teachers in full-time positions in both the fall of 2014 and 2015.

Not everyone is thrilled by that statistic. Reducing the ATR pool by putting more teachers in classrooms does a disservice to schools and students, said StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy group that backed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education policies. (The ATR grew under Bloomberg, costing the city about $105 million.)

“The de Blasio administration should not be cheered for shrinking the pool by placing ineffective teachers back in classrooms, which does a profound disservice to thousands of students,” said Jenny Sedlis, executive director of StudentsFirstNY.

Eric Nadelstern, a former deputy chancellor of New York City schools under Bloomberg who is now a professor at Teachers College, said another reason for the shrinking pool is far fewer schools are closing under de Blasio than under Bloomberg.

Teachers are typically placed in the ATR pool for budgetary reasons, Nadelstern said, or because they were performing poorly. Instead of keeping them within the school system, he said he would do the same as most other “sensible” industries and offer the teachers more buyouts.

“The thought of that in any other field of endeavor would be absurd,” Nadelstern said, “and yet we regularly treat teachers as if they are fungible and interchangeable — and they’re not.”

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.

Getting there

With new contract, first-year teachers in Detroit could soon make more than peers in Grosse Pointe and other suburbs

PHOTO: Detroit Public Schools Community District
First-year teachers in Detroit could soon earn more than their peers in neighboring districts. The gray bar in this chart shows where starting salaries were in Detroit last year. The green one shows how the contract could change that.

For years, Detroit’s main school district has paid some of the lowest starting teacher salaries in the region but Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says that’s about to change.

The teachers contract approved by the Detroit school board Tuesday night doesn’t include enough of a pay increase to bring city teachers back to where they were in 2011 when a state-appointed emergency manager ordered a 10 percent pay cut.

But data compiled by the Detroit district show that the new agreement, which will boost teacher wages by more than 7 percent, would pay enough that starting teachers could soon earn more than their peers in Dearborn, Grosse Pointe and other nearby districts.

“It doesn’t begin to address the injustice [of pay cuts and frozen wages] but this is a first step,” Vitti told the board as it met at Osborn High School Tuesday.

The new contract was approved last month by members of the Detroit Federation of Teachers union. Now that the school board has signed off, the contract will go to a state financial review board for final approval.

Vitti, who hopes the higher salaries will make it easier for the district to fill more than 400 vacant teaching positions, showed the board a series of charts and graphs that illustrated some effects of the new contract.

Among the charts he flashed on a screen was one that compared starting teacher salaries in Detroit to other districts, before and after the new contract. Another slide showed how salaries would change for teachers at every level of the pay scale. A third warned that the city’s main district could be careening toward a “cliff” if it doesn’t recruit enough young teachers to replace the district’s predominantly senior educators as they begin to retire.

See the charts — and additional details about the contract — below. The last page spells out other steps Vitti says he plans to take to address the teacher shortage.