Teacher Churn

40 percent of teachers were gone from struggling New York City schools after two years, union data show

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
August Martin High School is part of New York City's Renewal turnaround program.

Almost 40 percent of teachers working at low-performing schools in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature school-improvement program in 2014 were gone two years later, according to data compiled by the city teachers union — a far higher share than the 23 percent of teachers who left the city’s other schools during that period.

The high turnover rate among 78 schools in de Blasio’s “School Renewal” program is partly intentional: Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has encouraged principals to remove teachers they feel aren’t up for the job, and officials have forced the entire staffs at eight Renewal schools to reapply for their positions.

But it also reflects difficult teaching conditions in struggling schools that are under immense pressure to show gains; sagging enrollment that creates the need for fewer teachers; and dysfunctional or rotating leadership that can leave schools adrift. (As Chalkbeat reported last month, almost 60 percent of Renewal schools have seen at least one leadership change since the start of the program, which funnels extra social services and academic support into the city’s weakest schools.)

The degree of turnover varies widely among schools in the $582 million Renewal program, according to the data collected by the United Federation of Teachers. Schools with the greatest teacher churn often suffer from unstable or unsupportive school leadership, union officials said, noting that the turnover can undermine the city’s reform efforts.

“For schools like these to stabilize and improve,” said Janella Hinds, the UFT’s vice president of high schools, “the [education department] has to stabilize the workforce in these buildings.”

The variation among Renewal schools is dramatic.

At August Martin High School in Queens, 90 percent of teachers left or were replaced during the program’s first two years — the result of the city-union deal that required all the school’s teachers to reapply for their jobs. Just eight August Martin staffers were rehired; across all the schools with forced “restaffing,” about half the staff members were offered their positions back.

By contrast, just 16 percent of teachers at Brooklyn Generation School left during this two-year period.

In all, 50 out of 78 Renewal schools saw a third or more of their teachers leave, while just 10 schools had turnover rates lower than the city average during that time.

“We will continue to use all tools and resources — including re-staffing — if we believe it will help students get a better education,” department spokesman Michael Aciman said in a statement. The staffs at two more Renewal schools will soon be forced to reapply for their jobs.

While teacher turnover stems from many factors, research generally shows that it can be destabilizing for students and lower their academic achievement — especially among black students or those who are already low-performing.

“On overage, when a teacher leaves a school that has a negative effect on outcomes,” said Jim Wyckoff, a University of Virginia professor who has studied teacher turnover in New York City and Washington, D.C. There are some cases where removing the lowest-performing teachers can be beneficial, but that’s generally rare, he said.

The UFT compared employment records at Renewal schools in October 2014 and October 2016 to get a snapshot of teacher turnover over that period. However, the data do not show turnover trends during those years, nor do they reveal why teachers left or the experience level of those who replaced them. (The figures include teachers whose positions were eliminated due to declining enrollment, and excludes 16 schools that started in the program but were later closed or combined with other schools.)

Ann Neary, a former New York City teacher who spent 11 years at DeWitt Clinton High School before taking a teaching job in Connecticut, said she’s seen the effects of staff turnover firsthand. As the school’s enrollment sagged, she watched dozens of her colleagues forced out as their positions were no longer needed. Eventually, the same thing happened to her.

In the first two years after Clinton became part of the Renewal program, about a third of its teachers left, according to the UFT’s data. Its remaining staffers will soon be forced to reapply for their jobs.

“Kids get unsettled,” Neary said, “if they think the people they’re expecting to be there for them won’t be there.”

Student Voice

Boasting impressive resumes, five Newark students compete for a school board seat

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Top row: Amanda Amponsah, Nailah Cornish, Andre Ferreira. Bottom row: Shalom Jimoh, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya.

Earlier this year, Newark residents elected three new members to the city’s re-empowered school board. Now, public school students can choose one of their own to join the board, which in February became the district’s governing body for the first time in more than two decades.

Students have until midnight on Tuesday, June 5, to vote online for a rising 12th-grader to represent their interests on the school board. The winning student representative will provide the board with student perspectives on district policy, but will not be permitted to vote.

Eligible candidates are required to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, a satisfactory disciplinary record, and to submit peer and faculty recommendations. Last week, the five candidates participated in a debate, which can be heard here.

The candidates are:

  • Amanda Amponsah, of University High School, who is class president, captain of the softball team, a member of the marching band, and an aspiring pediatric oncologist.
  • Nailah Cornish, of Barringer Academy of Arts and Humanities, who plays basketball and volleyball, runs her own modeling program, and plans to study law and business in college.
  • Andre Ferreira, of Science Park High School, who is a soccer player, debater, and vice president of the student leadership organization. He plans to major in political science and aspires to work for the United Nations.
  • Shalom Jimoh, of Weequahic High School, who immigrated from Nigeria, and is now a member of the student government council, the National Honor Society, and the track and volleyball teams. She plans to study medicine and theater arts in college.
  • Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Weequahic High School, who serves as school photographer, soccer team captain, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Emmanuel wants to study engineering, and then start a company that combines photography, architecture, and engineering.

The winner will join the board at an historic moment. Control of the district reverted to the city in February, when state officials determined the district had met its requirements for home rule. The district had been run by the state for 22 years prior.

Last year, more than 1,200 students  — or about 13 percent of Newark public high school students — voted for a student representative to the school board, which then functioned in an advisory capacity only. This year, a Newark student group tried to ramp up turnout with text messages and a video posted on Facebook encouraging voting.

“The student representative will work closely with administrators and board members to make sure that all student voices are heard,” according to a video produced in advance of the vote by the Youth Media Symposium at the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Newark civic-engagement group. “Now that we have local control, this is more crucial than ever.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,381 votes had been cast. District officials said the winner will be announced Friday, and will be introduced publicly at the board’s June 12 meeting. The representative will then be required to attend at least four board meetings and various district events during the 2018–2019 academic year.

devos watch

Asked again about school staff referring students to ICE, DeVos says ‘I don’t think they can’

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Pressed to clarify her stance on whether school staff could report undocumented students to immigration authorities, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos avoided giving a clear answer before eventually saying, “I don’t think they can.”

It was an odd exchange before the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee, during a hearing that was meant to focus on budget issues but offered a prime opportunity for Senate Democrats to grill DeVos on other topics.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator from Connecticut, focused on DeVos’s comments a few weeks ago at House hearing where she said that it was “a school decision” whether to report undocumented students to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Civil rights groups responded sharply, calling it an inaccurate description of the department’s own rules and the Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe, that says schools must educate undocumented students.

In a statement after that hearing, DeVos seemed to walk back her comments, saying, “Schools are not, and should never become, immigration enforcement zones.” DeVos also referenced the Plyler case on Tuesday, while initially avoiding multiple chances to offer a yes or no response to whether school officials could call ICE on a student.

In response to DeVos’s latest remarks, her spokesperson Liz Hill said, “She did not avoid the question and was very clear schools are not, and should not ever become, immigration enforcement zones. Every child should feel safe going to school.”

Here’s the full exchange between DeVos and Murphy:

Murphy: Let me ask you about a question that you were presented with in a House hearing around the question of whether teachers should refer undocumented students to ICE for immigration enforcement. In the hearing I think you stated that that should be up to each individual state or school district. And then you released a follow-up statement in which you said that, ‘our nation has both a legal and moral obligation to educate every child,’ and is well-established under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Plyler and has been in my consistent position since day one. I’m worried that that statement is still not clear on this very important question of whether or not a teacher or a principal is allowed to call ICE to report an undocumented student under federal law. Can a teacher or principal call ICE to report an undocumented student under current federal law?

DeVos: I will refer back again to the settled case in Plyler vs. Doe in 1982, which says students that are not documented have the right to an education. I think it’s incumbent on us to ensure that those students have a safe and secure environment to attend school, to learn, and I maintain that.

Murphy: Let me ask the question again: Is it OK – you’re the secretary of education, there are a lot of schools that want guidance, and want to understand what the law is — is it OK for a teacher or principal to call ICE to report an undocumented student?

DeVos: I think a school is a sacrosanct place for student to be able to learn and they should be protected there.

Murphy: You seem to be very purposefully not giving a yes or no answer. I think there’s a lot of educators that want to know whether this is permissible.

DeVos: I think educators know in their hearts that they need to ensure that students have a safe place to learn.

Murphy: Why are you so — why are you not answering the question?

DeVos: I think I am answering the question.

Murphy: The question is yes or no. Can a principal call ICE on a student? Is that allowed under federal law? You’re the secretary of education.

DeVos: In a school setting, a student has the right to be there and the right to learn, and so everything surrounding that should protect that and enhance that student’s opportunity and that student’s environment.

Murphy: So they can’t call ICE?

DeVos: I don’t think they can.

Murphy: OK, thank you.