Zombie Fallacies: Discredited School Reform Ideas That Refuse To Die


Alright, I admit it, I’m a Paul Krugman junkie, both his op ed pieces and his blogs. He reminds me of a concept that haunts us,
zombie fallacies — ideas that you kill repeatedly, but refuse to die — inevitably make their appearance.
So, as a tribute to Halloween, let’s kill them again.
ATRs have can’t find a job on their own should be fired after a year or so … they’re weak teachers, they don’t even look for jobs, they are a drain on the school system.
The 1300 or so ATRs are teachers who were excessed when their school closed, others are newer teachers who were bumped due to budget cuts or student register decreases, or, are teachers coming back from a leave. The “pool,” costing over $100 million a year was created by the Chancellor for political reasons. He has consistently vilified ATRs and attacked their competence, without a scintilla of evidence. At the NY Post and the Daily News the line between news and opinion is not blurred, it has disappeared and the newspapers attack the UFT over the Tweed-created ATR issue. 
Many ATRs have applied for scores of jobs with nary an interview. They carry the stigma of a rain of attacks by the press and the Chancellor, and principals shy away. The mark of Cain, tenure and higher salary dooms them to the depressing nether-nether land of teacher ATR purgatory.
The Chancellor is willing to spend over $100 million of public dollars, in a climate of declining dollars and a bleak budget future, to force the union to the end of the contract bargaining process: fact-finding, in the hope that the fact-finders, the arbitrators, will issue a report supporting the Chancellor, a report by the way that is not binding.
The Chancellor has succeeded in driving teachers together and strengthening the union, if there ever was a strike issue the firing of ATRs would be that issue.
Resolution: ATRs are permanently assigned to their current positions, DOE picks up the full cost for the remainder of this year and half the cost for next year. If an ATR receives a U rating in June, 2010, they are mandated to participate in Peer Intervention Plus (PIP) for the following year. If they are truly terrible teachers the principal can prefer charges and the PIP intervener reports are admissible at the trial.
Rubber Rooms are filled with incompetent teachers that can’t be fired because of union rules.
There are about 600 DOE employees, mostly teachers. scattered in the Teacher Reassignment Centers, aka, “Rubber Rooms.” Who are they? One group have been arrested for a minor offense. The police routinely “overcharge,” charge the arrested person with a violation or crime well above what actually happened. The case eventually gets before a judge and is “Adjourned Contemplating Dismissal” or “Dismissed” outright. The teacher returns to his/her school or is dumped into the ATR pool. Another group is pulled from school due to an accusation of “verbal abuse” or “corporal punishment.” Many, many months later, sometimes more than a year, the accusation disappears and the teacher slides back to their school or the “pool.” In other cases the teacher agrees to pay a modest fine, their file is expunged and they return to school. Well under 100 cases actually go to trial and fewer reach a conclusion. With forty years and thousands of cases the case law is deep.
Why does the DOE waste millions? Either shortsightedness (they claim they don’t have enough attorneys, but they pay the 600), incompetence, or, once again to gain political points in the war to drastically change the union contract and state law.
Resolution: A rapid due process hearing before an arbitrator, similar to a grand jury, to determine whether or not the teacher can be removed.
A State law passed through the political clout of the union prevents student achievement data from being used in the tenure granting process, allowing endless incompetent teachers to achieve tenure.
Teachers serve a three year probationary period, the principal should have been in and out of the classroom a hundred or so times, conducted a score of formal observations, if inept teachers receive tenure it is the fault of the principal not the law. The teacher union is concerned that the DOE will issue a regulation: “No teacher shall receive tenure unless their class show x progress on State examinations.”
The end product of an outcome-based system, that ignores teaching inputs is both fatally flawed and dangerous. The scandal at Lehman High School is a prime example. If students in classroom A are exceeding expectations and students in classroom B not achieving expectations the “answer” is not giving teacher A a raise and firing teacher B. The “answer” is finding out why.
If we believe that teacher classroom decisions are based on evidence, on artifacts, on data, then we can only expect that the Secretary of Education follows the same pattern. Education Next, published by Harvard University argues that “…school turnaround efforts have failed more often the not.”
 This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.
If Arne Duncan’s reform are seriously questioned in Chicago why is he moving ahead with the same reforms nationally. Frederick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute, as reported in the NY Times, finds
The Obama administration’s solution is that we’re going to make all the lousy schools better, but that’s harder than the administration has let on. The next most attractive alternative is to shut them down, and let the kids go to other schools, but this Consortium report has found that that brought little benefit to students in Chicago.
Arne should take his head out of the pumpkin.


One response to “Zombie Fallacies: Discredited School Reform Ideas That Refuse To Die

  1. First, the PIP+ program is a sham and should be eliminated and not used to determine if the ATR is competent. Tweed caused this problem and let them pay the price for their arrogance in the way they handled the ATR crises.

    Second, many teachers are refusing to take a deal and make the DOE prove their weak cases in a 3020-a hearing. Your statement of fewer than 100 is not true. It is much more according to NYSUT.


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