Mayor-elect de Blasio speaking to a high level Department of Education official,
“Let me get this straight, when you close a school you dump the staff into what is called the ATR pool, the teachers are not assigned to another school, they rotate weekly from school to school and do whatever the principal assigns them, there are over 200 guidance counselors who also rotate and you have just added assistant principals to the rotation system. You have a team of field supervisors who observe and evaluate the folks in the ATR pool, the vast percent are rated satisfactory, and this system is costing, me, costing the city over $100 million a year.”
Department official, “Yes, you’re basically correct, let me explain the underlying reason for this policy.”
de Blasio, “Not not, do you have any evidence that this system improves students’ academic achievement or social and emotional well-being, by evidence I mean a peer-reviewed study?”
Department official, “No, but this policy is a core belief of our administration, can I explain further?”
de Blasio, “No, by core belief you mean dogma unsubstantiated by evidence, it is a politically driven policy, you believe that principals should select all teachers in their schools and are willing to divert $100 million to support an unproven political agenda.”
Department official, “There’s much more to it, I’d like to explain.”
de Blasio, “You already have explained,” and makes an aside to an aide as he walks away, “This is total insanity.”
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Over 1,000 teachers rotate weekly from school to school, the department argues it increases the chances of a teacher being permanently absorbed by a school, yet, the department allows “exceptions from the freeze” routinely. ATR field supervisors observe teachers in the pool teaching lessons and find the vast majority “satisfactory.”
Over 200 guidance counselors are in the pool. They could be providing college counseling, working with students in suspension centers, running family counseling sessions for parents and their children, instead, they rotate from school to school having little or no impact. Why are there so many guidance counselors in the ATR pool? Faced with the pressure to raise scores on standardized tests or graduation rates principals use funds for intensive remediation, test prep to jack up scores, and excess non-teaching personnel, namely, guidance counselors, psychologists and social workers.
Kathleen Cashin and Bruce Cooper, professors at Fordham University, in Education Week, ask,
What do children do in school when they are treated like objects to be shaped, controlled, and rewarded—or punished—for what they said or did, learned, or failed to learn?
How can these children grow, be human, be happy, and become good adults? And how can teachers thrive and survive if they, too, are not treated with dignity, and humanity, by their students, colleagues, and administrators?
How can students engage in the learning process if they feel isolated, a condition that affects many students and teachers alike? For teachers are often working in isolation. And students, when they stare at computers all day, are hardly interacting with teachers or peers.
We argue for the reinstatement of the socioemotional dimensions of education—what was once called, in the educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s words, “the affective domain,” where teachers built into a lesson and the curriculum the human feelings, needs, and aspirations of their students, along with the cognitive demands of the learning experience.
The current system is so driven to increase test scores, so driven by ideology, that they ignore a vast realm of neuroscience research. Research that irrevocably links socioemotional well-being to success as adults; not only success in the academic realm but success in the world of work.
Check out this brief video from the Harvard Child Development Center: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/multimedia/videos/theory_of_change/
The “insanity” of the ATR pool not only is a waste of department resources, over $100 million a year, it moves in the wrong direction. You cannot separate the cognitive from the non-cognitive domains, allowing principals to cut psychologists, social workers and guidance counselors because they think it is beneficial to fund an intensive test prep program is simply wrong.
Department dogma: give principals wide discretion and hold them accountable.
The reality: the department allows principals to make bad decisions, decisions that are antithetical to the goals of producing adults with the skills to successfully pursue college and career and the world of work.
Cashin and Cooper at Fordham and Jack Shonkoff at Harvard are not only correct, they are basing their views on peer-reviewed research, not unproven dogma.
The Science of Adversity and Resilience program at the Harvard Child Center has conducted a wide range of neuroscience research:
• Toxic stress and its impacts on lifelong health;
• Brain plasticity and critical/sensitive periods of development;
• Causal mechanisms that explain the origins of disparities in learning, behavior, and health that are associated with adversity-related socioeconomic status, maltreatment, and/or minority group status;
• Scientifically informed interventions and measurement strategies designed to improve the life prospects of disadvantaged children; and
• Factors that contribute to resilience in individuals and communities.
In spite of reams of rich research the department ignores science and depends on the work of a management professor at UCLA, William Ouchi (See summary here)
For twelve years the department has been speeding toward the light at the end of the tunnel, we all see that the light is an oncoming locomotive, all except the department.
One of Mayor-elect de Blasio’s first actions, an important symbolic action, should be to end the ATR pool and assign teachers and guidance counselors and assistant principals to full time positions in schools working directly with children. Gee, what a radical concept!