draining the atr pool

New York City plans more aggressive steps to move hundreds of unassigned teachers out of Absent Teacher Reserve

Schools that still have vacancies by October will be sent staffers from the city’s Absent Teacher Reserve, a move that may shrink the costly pool but could also rankle principals.

The policy, first reported by the New York Daily News and confirmed by the education department Monday, marks the city’s latest attempt to reach its goal of cutting the pool in half from its current 822 teachers.

The Absent Teacher Reserve is a group of teachers collecting salaries and benefits without holding full-time positions. Teachers can be placed into the ATR either because their jobs were eliminated or for disciplinary reasons.

Under the new policy, principals have until around October 15 — six months from when hiring begins — to fill their vacancies. After that, city officials say they will make placements from the ATR, even potentially over principals’ objections.

“We will work to find the right fit, and hear and work through concerns that they might have,” education department spokesman Will Mantell said. “But ultimately, we do have discretion to place an educator in a vacancy that exists, and it kind of makes sense.”

The placements will be for one year, rather than a monthly rotation. Mantell said that would allow teachers to participate in training and receive guidance from principals. Teachers who score “Highly Effective” or “Effective” on the observation portion of their evaluation when there is a remaining vacancy will be permanently hired.

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña promised in 2014 that she would not endorse “forced placement of staff” as a strategy for shrinking the pool. Though the new policy may require principals to take on teachers, Mantell said it is not an example of forced placement because it only applied to vacancies and will not allow ATR teachers to bump existing teachers from their jobs.

Still, the change could prove unpopular with principals. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, principals were given more power to run their schools and make hiring decisions. The de Blasio administration has, to a certain extent, reined in this power — which has drawn some criticism.

The ATR pool swelled under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who aggressively closed struggling schools, and cost the city an estimated $105 million in 2013. Current Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged to shrink the pool in half.

Measuring the ATR pool can be tricky, since it represents only a snapshot in time and fluctuates throughout the year. Still, city officials argue that, in the aggregate, it has steadily decreased under de Blasio.

The city has undertaken a number of initiatives toward that end, including hiring the former principal of Brooklyn Technical High School to lead efforts to shrink the pool, offering $50,000 severance payments and subsidizing the salaries of teachers hired from the ATR.

Still, at the end of the 2016-17 school year, 822 teachers remained in the pool, according to numbers provided by the education department. This new policy will mark a more aggressive approach to reducing that number. In addition to the placements, teachers in the pool can now be hired across school district lines within their borough.

In an emailed statement, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew praised the plan.

“These changes reflect the UFT’s conviction that members of the ATR pool provide needed services to schools and that their work should be respected,” Mulgrew said in an emailed statement.

But critics argue that if principals had wanted to hire these teachers, they would have already done so. The result, they say, will put poor quality teachers into New York’s neediest classrooms.

“It is shockingly irresponsible for the city to force place hundreds of teachers of dubious quality into the classrooms of our most vulnerable students,” said StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis in a statement. “There are reasons why no principal has chosen to hire them and this policy is bad for kids, plain and simple.”

boosting literacy

A new Memphis nonprofit sees training teachers in dyslexia therapy as key to closing literacy gap for all

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Memphis Delta Preparatory charter school is one of four schools working with ALLMemphis to develop stronger literacy curriculum.

A new nonprofit organization says educators must be better trained to recognize and teach students with learning disorders like dyslexia if they are to raise reading proficiency throughout Memphis.

Michelle Gaines and Krista L. Johnson founded ALLMemphis in June to boost overall reading comprehension and fill a gap they see in local classrooms — the lack of training for teachers in approaches proven to help students with dyslexia, a disorder from which many Memphis students are likely struggling.

The pair now work, for free, with about 500 students in four Memphis elementary charter schools and have trained 29 educators.

About one in five children in Tennessee are dyslexic, but until last year, early screenings weren’t required in local schools. Students with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing words and sounds and spelling, but can learn how to read with a specific multisensory approach that combines touch, sound and sight.

But even when the disorder is caught early, schools often don’t have the proper training or tools to address it. Gaines and Johnson say their organization can change that and even benefit students who aren’t dyslexic.

Specifically, ALLMemphis trains teachers in the Orton-Gillingham multi-sensory approach to reading that is common in dyslexia therapy but is rarely a part of public school curriculum in Tennessee.

“This approach is the gold standard when it comes to dyslexia therapy, but we believe it can benefit children’s reading ability regardless whether or not they are dyslexic,” Johnson said. “Our mission is to impact the third-grade reading crisis, and we believe this can do it.” 

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Krista L. Johnson

The latest data shows that two out of three Memphis third-graders aren’t reading on grade level. Shelby County Schools officials have set a goal of to have 90 percent of students reading on grade level by 2025.

ALLMemphis trained teachers and coaches in Orton-Gillingham over the summer and works with the educators throughout the year. Gaines and Johnson also work with individual students in the classrooms. The organization will be tracking student data throughout the year, and the initial results are encouraging.

While working for the Bodine School in Memphis, a private school that serves students with dyslexia, Gaines and Johnson piloted their teacher-training model at KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary for the last two years. They left Bodine to form ALLMemphis in June and brought on Megan Weinstein shortly after to oversee data evaluation.

Johnson said ALLMemphis will work with their current four schools for the next three years, with hopes of adding new schools every year. Eventually, the plan is to charge schools a minimal fee.

Gaines said the initial data after two years showed that KIPP students who worked with ALLMemphis showed more growth overall on MAP score data than their peers, especially in first and fourth grades.

PHOTO: Darius Williams
Michelle Gaines

“What’s so exciting is that the data shows this can work in an urban, whole-class setting,” Gaines said. “We know that as we grow, we want to continue offering supports that are relevant to teachers. We write and give teachers lesson plans and we work with coaches on assessments. The point is for our program to be an asset, not a burden.”

Catherine Norman, a teacher at KIPP Collegiate, said the training changed the way she thought about literacy and armed her with strong lesson plans, too.

“What I appreciate most about Orton-Gillingham is that it incorporates lots of different learning styles in one lesson,” Norman said. “The training is really expensive when a teacher does it on their own, but the fact they (ALLMemphis) have trained every K-3 teacher at our school is crazy in a good way. It makes me really excited because it provides a lot of opportunities that our kids wouldn’t get otherwise.”  

Schools currently working with ALLMemphis are KIPP Memphis Academy Elementary, Collegiate Elementary and Preparatory Elementary and Memphis Delta Preparatory.

teacher trap

America’s teachers don’t move out of state much. That could be bad for students.

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos

Certification rules can make moving to a new state a serious hassle for teachers.

That might explain a recent finding: Teachers are significantly less likely to move between states than others with similar jobs — and past research suggests that students suffer as a result.

The study, which uses national data from 2005 to 2015 and was released this week through the National Bureau of Economic Research, appears to be the first to document how frequently teachers move states compared to those in other occupations.

Teaching stands out: Relative to jobs requiring a similar level of education, teachers were 45 percent less likely to move to different state, but only 5 percent less likely to move a long distance within a given state. This suggests that teachers aren’t averse to moving — there are just strong incentives to not cross state lines.

That “may limit the ability of workers to move to take advantage of job opportunities,” the researchers write. That’s consistent with research on the Oregon–Washington border, where teachers were more likely to move long distances in their own state than shorter distances across the state line.

Winning permission to teach in a new state sometimes requires re-taking coursework and taking new certification exams. There may be good reasons for that — for instance, states that are particularly attractive to teachers may want to maintain especially high standards but it’s also a complicated process to navigate.

“Web-surfing became my life, through hard-to-navigate state department of education websites and portals that looked like something I had created back in my college sophomore computer science class in 1998,” wrote one teacher in a recent piece for Education Week, describing her efforts to meet new requirements after moving from Florida to Massachusetts.

This matters because the rules may keep teachers who move from re-entering the classroom altogether. A national survey found that among people who had left teaching but were considering re-entering the classroom, 40 percent identified “state certification reciprocity” as a key factor in their consideration.

That, in turn, affects students. One analysis has found that schools near state borders perform consistently worse on standardized tests — perhaps because certification and other rules limit the pool of potential teachers. Research has also shown that teachers perform best when they find a good “fit” with a school, and certification rules may make that harder.

Certification rules are not the only factor in play. Teachers’ decisions may also be influenced by retirement plans that aren’t easily portable and rules that would require them to give up seniority and tenure protections when they move.

It doesn’t have to work this way. The study finds that people in other professions, like medicine, are freer to move and have certifications that easily transfer between states. But the idea of a national “bar exam” for educators hasn’t ever gained traction.

A handful of states have agreed to accept one another’s certifications, and a provision in ESSA would allow federal money to go toward the efforts.

As for the teacher, Megan Allen, who struggled with Massachusetts’ rules — and had 10 years of experience and a National Board certification? She left public education as a result. “I didn’t feel like I was valued for any of the expertise that I had earned, worked hard for, and proved,” she wrote.