Screen Time

New York City teachers will be screened for ‘suitability’ under new union contract

Teachers gathered in New York City

If teaching in New York City is going to burn you out, the school system wants to know before you set foot in a classroom.

As part of a new contract deal, the city and its teachers union agreed to develop a “suitability” screening for new hires. Their goal: to weed out prospective teachers who would be unlikely to succeed in the city’s schools.

It’s a strange initiative to include in a contract that also makes new resources available to fill “hard-to-staff” positions in lower-performing schools that have high turnover. Why raise the bar to enter city classrooms when so many have vacancies?

“Are we doing better than a lot of other school systems in terms of being able to attract teaching talent? Absolutely,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Thursday press conference. “Are we in a perfect situation? No, we’re not in a perfect situation.”

Chancellor Richard Carranza echoed the message.

“Again, this is a way to explore: Is there a way to have pre-service screening that gives us an indication that, ‘Yup, you’re suitable for this profession,’ or ‘Perhaps you should do something else,’” Carranza said at a press conference.

In pursuing the pre-hire screening approach, New York City would join several other cities that screen aspiring teachers for suitability before letting them interview at individual schools. Notably, Los Angeles screens applicants based on their college GPAs, sample lessons, and other application materials; research has found that Los Angeles teachers who scored higher on the screen’s metrics eventually boosted their students’ test scores more, received higher ratings, and had higher attendance.

The approach marks a sharp turn from other recent efforts in New York City and beyond to boost teacher quality that have focused on developing teachers once they are in the classroom — and pushing out those who turn out not to be effective. Those efforts have proved onerous and, in many cases, divisive.

The screen has the added benefit of scrutinizing only educators who are not yet part of the teachers union — potentially making the move an easier sell for the union, whose members must sign off on the contract deal.

Pre-hire screening in New York was the city’s idea, but union president Michael Mulgrew said he decided to support it largely because the city plans to review different options.

“They said, ‘Look, we’re just trying to get some sort of suitability assessment,’” Mulgrew said. “I said, ‘Yeah, when I came into the system there were types of things like that in place, but over the last about 18 to 20 years it’s just been a college degree.’ So I said, fine.”

It’s unclear exactly what the screen will test for, since the city is still developing the idea. The next step is to request proposals for the screen.

While parameters are not yet nailed down, officials likened the test to psychological profiles, workshops, and stress tests that police departments use for job candidates — can someone do the job without burning out?

Evidence from other cities offers a mixed review for the approach. In Los Angeles, the system seemed to slightly bump up test scores in schools with more new hires. But the study did not address how the screen affected teacher diversity — another priority for New York City, though not one addressed in the new contract.

“There’s a focus in diversity and hiring in a lot of other things we’re doing,” de Blasio said at the press conference. “We have to create a more diverse teaching corps as another one of the elements of succeeding.”

And in Boulder, Colorado, a screening mechanism drew criticism after it became clear that former teachers who were reapplying for jobs weren’t scoring high enough on the screen to be considered for positions where they had formerly succeeded. In one math teacher’s case, her former students and their parents showed up to support her at a school board meeting, and the board reconsidered the screening mechanism that was in place at the time.

That mechanism was developed by Gallup. Other screening services are sold through companies such as TalentEd and the Haberman Educational Foundation. Mulgrew said officials have been in touch with “very, very reputable institutions” that might create New York City’s mechanism but didn’t elaborate.

What the union would oppose, he said, are screens tied to students’ test results.

“We want to make sure it’s appropriate for you to work inside the New York City public school system. I cannot stress this enough. This is a very difficult profession,” Mulgrew said at the press conference. “We are in a high-stress environment a lot of times here in New York City. We welcome that as educators, but it’s not for everyone.”


snow fallout

From stalled buses to canceled programs, New York City schools are bearing brunt of snow storm

PHOTO: Guillermo Murcia / Getty Images
A school bus on Dekalb avenue in Fort Greene Brooklyn during a snow storm.

Parents, students, and teachers are dealing with the fallout of Thursday’s snowstorm, which stranded yellow buses for hours, created brutal commutes, and forced teachers to stay late for parent conferences.

Just before 9 a.m. Friday, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza announced all after-school programs would be cancelled, sending families scrambling to make arrangements. And perhaps anticipating yet another wave of yellow-bus related problems, all field trips involving buses were also cancelled.

Some parents and educators took to social media to vent about the city’s response.

Emergency responders were dispatched to free five children with special needs who had been trapped on a school bus for 10 hours, according to City Councilman Ben Kallos. Traveling from Manhattan to the Bronx, students didn’t make it home until “well after midnight,” Kallos said in a statement. The councilman has sponsored legislation to require GPS tracking on yellow buses after the school year began with horror stories about long, circuitous routes. Many riders are children with special needs who travel to programs outside their neighborhoods.

The education department did not immediately respond to questions about the timing of their decision to cancel after-school programs.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would conduct a”full operational review of what happened,” referring to the city’s response to the storm. “We have to figure out how to make adjustments when we have only a few hours but this was—I hate to use this hackneyed phrase—but this was kind of a perfect storm: late information, right up on rush hour, and then a particularly fast, heavy kind of snow.”

The politics of snow-related closures are challenging, forcing city leaders to balance concerns about safety with the needs of working families, who may struggle to make arrangements for emergency childcare.

Snow-day related cancellations have bedeviled previous chancellors; in one famous incident, former Chancellor Carmen Fariña and de Blasio kept schools open despite a forecast of 10 inches of snow. The next day, Fariña proclaimed it was “a beautiful day.”

Still, the de Blasio administration is much more likely to cancel school in response to snow than his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg.

Christina Veiga contributed.


Mapping a Turnaround

This is what the State Board of Education hopes to order Adams 14 to do

PHOTO: Hyoung Chang/The Denver Post
Javier Abrego, superintendent of Adams 14 School District on April 17, 2018.

In Colorado’s first-ever attempt to give away management of a school district, state officials Thursday provided a preview of what the final order requiring Adams 14 to give up district management could include.

The State Board of Education is expected to approve its final directives to the district later this month.

Thursday, after expressing a lack of trust in district officials who pleaded their case, the state board asked the Attorney General’s office for advice and help in drafting a final order detailing how the district is to cede authority, and in what areas.

Colorado has never ordered an external organization to take over full management of an entire district.

Among details discussed Thursday, Adams 14 will be required to hire an external manager for at least four years. The district will have 90 days to finalize a contract with an external manager. If it doesn’t, or if the contract doesn’t meet the state’s guidelines, the state may pull the district’s accreditation, which would trigger dissolution of Adams 14.

State board chair Angelika Schroeder said no one wants to have to resort to that measure.

But districts should know, the state board does have “a few more tools in our toolbox,” she said.

In addition, if they get legal clearance, state board members would like to explicitly require the district:

  • To give up hiring and firing authority, at least for at-will employees who are administrators, but not teachers, to the external manager.
    When State Board member Steve Durham questioned the Adams 14 school board President Connie Quintana about this point on Wednesday, she made it clear she was not interested in giving up this authority.
  • To give up instructional, curricular, and teacher training decisions to the external manager.
  • To allow the new external manager to decide if there is value in continuing the existing work with nonprofit Beyond Textbooks.
    District officials have proposed they continue this work and are expanding Beyond Textbooks resources to more schools this year. The state review panel also suggested keeping the Beyond Textbooks partnership, mostly to give teachers continuity instead of switching strategies again.
  • To require Adams 14 to seek an outside manager that uses research-based strategies and has experience working in that role and with similar students.
  • To task the external manager with helping the district improve community engagement.
  • To be more open about their progress.
    The state board wants to be able to keep track of how things are going. State board member Rebecca McClellan said she would like the state board and the department’s progress monitor to be able to do unannounced site visits. Board member Jane Goff asked for brief weekly reports.
  • To allow the external manager to decide if the high school requires additional management or other support.
  • To allow state education officials, and/or the state board, to review the final contract between the district and its selected manager, to review for compliance with the final order.

Facing the potential for losing near total control over his district, Superintendent Javier Abrego Thursday afternoon thanked the state board for “honoring our request.”

The district had accepted the recommendation of external management and brought forward its own proposal — but with the district retaining more authority.

Asked about the ways in which the state board went above and beyond the district’s proposal, such as giving the outside manager the authority to hire and fire administrative staff, Abrego did not seem concerned.

“That has not been determined yet,” he said. “That will all be negotiated.”

The state board asked that the final order include clear instructions about next steps if the district failed to comply with the state’s order.