ATR Exemption

Fariña: Low-performing ‘Renewal’ schools won’t be assigned educators from the Absent Teacher Reserve

PHOTO: Cassi Feldman
The group StudentsFirstNY staged a rally this summer to protest the city's plan to place educators in the Absent Teacher Research in schools with job openings.

When the city begins placing teachers without permanent positions in schools next week, there’s one place it won’t send them: low-performing schools in its “Renewal” turnaround program.

New York City schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said on Thursday that the education department will not assign teachers from the controversial Absent Teacher Reserve to any of the 78 schools in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s high-profile Renewal program, which is intended to revamp struggling schools. The announcement seems to address some critics’ concern that those high-needs schools would be saddled with teachers that other principals had declined to hire.

Fariña also announced that no teachers in the reserve with a record of disciplinary problems will be placed in any schools.

“We are not putting people who have a record of not behaving in any school,” she told reporters during an unrelated press conference. “We are also very clearly asking everybody to be vetted by the principal.”

An education department spokesman later added that the department has “full discretion” to decide where to send teachers in the reserve, and that decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis.

The reserve, commonly known as the ATR, is a pool of educators who don’t hold permanent positions because they face disciplinary or legal issues, or because their school declined in enrollment or closed.

Educators in the reserve typically serve as roving substitutes. But education department officials recently announced they would begin filling school positions that are vacant as of Oct. 15 with educators from the group — potentially even over the objections of principals. The assignments will last through the school year, and would become permanent if the teacher earns a positive evaluation.

Critics say the city’s plan will put sub-par teachers in the neediest schools, since those are also typically the hardest to staff.

Two weeks after the school year began, a Chalkbeat review of school vacancies revealed that four out of five school districts with the most postings were in the Bronx. At the same time, according to city figures, teachers from the reserve are typically rated less effective than the full body of teachers: Only 74 percent of teachers in the ATR received positive ratings in 2015-16, compared to 93 percent of all city teachers.

While the city tried to reassure parents and advocates that it will use “discretion” when placing teachers from the reserve, the chancellor’s comments went a step further. In an email, the department spokesman, Will Mantell, wrote that the chancellor’s comments were “further clarifications” of the city’s policy.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that there are “very good teachers” within the ATR. He has pledged to cut the pool in half from more than 800 educators, which costs the city more than $150 million a year.

“We believe that there is now a real process in place to find the right placement for someone in that ATR pool, with principals who are ready to take the talented folks,” de Blasio said. “And if they find in some cases someone is not up to the challenge, they’re ready to act on that and we can work to move that person out of the system.”

This is not the first time the city has made a special exception for schools in de Blasio’s signature school-improvement program. The education department also reduced the number of hard-to-serve latecomer students that it sent Renewal schools, and gave them extra time to meet performance goals.

word choice

A quietly edited report and dueling blog posts reveal a divide over the ‘portfolio model’

Diane Ravitch speaks at California State University Northridge. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

A report on school choice released last month offered this in a list of strategies for improving schools: “creating a portfolio approach that treats all types of schools equally.”

Today, that reference is gone from the report — a small edit that reveals notable disagreements among prominent names in education who often agree.

The report was issued by the Learning Policy Institute, an education think tank started by Linda Darling-Hammond, an influential Stanford professor. Then came a critique from Diane Ravitch and Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education, a pro-public education group that opposes charter schools. And then came the edits to the original report, first noted by Burris and Ravitch.

At the center of the disagreement is the report’s use of the word “portfolio.” The portfolio model is a strategy offering parents the choice of different school types (typically including charter schools) and having a central body holding all schools accountable for results and manages certain functions like enrollment. And the Learning Policy Institute praises Denver, a district that has adopted it.

Denver’s collaboration agreement with its charter schools “drives equitable funding and access for all schools, and strives to replicate the most effective schools of all kinds,” the report says. The report also recommends putting the “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures,” and notes that most school choice in the U.S. involves options within traditional districts.

Ravitch and Burris pushed back on the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog. “School governance directly affects the rights and well-being of students,” they wrote, pointing to instances where charter schools have pushed out students with disabilities or shut down abruptly.

That criticism seems to have gotten through. Since the debate began, the Learning Policy Institute has edited its report to remove the term “portfolio” and changed other language. One recommendation — “focus on educational opportunities for children, not governance structures for adults” — became “focus on high-quality learning for children, not the preferences of adults.”

“The language change was made after some public feedback suggested that the use of the word ‘portfolio’ in the report was being misinterpreted,” Barbara McKenna, a spokesperson for the Learning Policy Institute, said in an email. “The report used the word ‘portfolio’ in one of the recommendations in the most straightforward sense of the term — an array of options.”

The report does not indicate that it has been updated since it was published late last month. McKenna said that’s because the revisions weren’t substantial.

Meanwhile, Darling-Hammond and co-authors have responded, and Ravitch and Burris offered an additional rejoinder.

Darling-Hammond said in an interview that she neither rejects nor wholly subscribes to the portfolio model. “Unplanned, uncoordinated, unmanaged choice has a lot of challenges and problems,” she said.

This debate comes as a new group, known as the City Fund, has raised at least $200 million in order to spread the portfolio model to dozens of U.S. cities. Whether the approach reliably improves academic outcomes remains up for debate.

public comment

What to expect from six hours of charter school hearings Wednesday night

PHOTO: Chicago Tribune

The public can weigh in on three new charters, 11 renewals and one potential revocation on Wednesday night during a marathon session of hearings at Chicago Public Schools headquarters on 42 W. Madison Street.

One school, the Near West Side campus of Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men High School, could lose its charter and be forced to close. Parents and families will have a chance to weigh in during a public comment section.

Urban Prep operates three campuses in Bronzeville, Englewood, and University Village. Only the latter, which reported 176 students this fall, is on the list to potentially shutter.

The first hearing, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., will be about new charters with proposals to open in the fall of 2019:

  • Intrinsic Charter School for a traditional citywide high school;
  • Project Simeon 2000 for a school that would serve at-risk students in middle grades in Englewood, where the district is planning a new $85 million high school to open in 2022;
  • Chicago Education Partnership to open a traditional K-8 school in Austin.

From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the district will hear public comment on renewal applications from 11 private operators as well as the proposal to revoke Urban Prep’s University Village campus. The charter and contracts under consideration for renewal are:

  • Noble Network of Charter Schools (whose founder Michael Milkie just resigned amid allegations of improper conduct with alumni)
  • Namaste Charter School
  • Kwame Nkrumah Academy Charter School
  • Horizon Science Academy Southwest Chicago Charter School (Chicago Lawn Charter School)
  • Great Lakes Academy Charter School
  • Foundations College Preparatory Charter School
  • Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA) Charter School
  • Hope Institute Learning Academy
  • Excel Academy of Southshore
  • Excel Academy Southwest
  • Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts)

Those interested in submitting comment may register in person before the meetings, send a fax to 773-553-1559, or email iandipublichearings@cps.edu.