The superintendent wanted to speak with me before I represented a teacher at disciplinary hearing,
“How can you represent him, he’s a terrible teacher.”
Me: “Your principal hired him, your principal gave him tenure, your principal has been giving him S ratings and the union doesn’t pick its clients.”
Superintendent, after a thoughtful moment: “You’re absolutely right; maybe I’m giving the wrong person the U rating.”
The Department announcement that it is going to seek discharge of teachers with two consecutive unsatisfactory ratings is an admission of a deeply flawed school system leadership.
Why hasn’t the Department been seeking to dismiss poorly performing teachers all along?
Two years ago in the “rubber room agreement” the Department dissolved the fraudulent rubber room. Of the 600 plus teachers in the “teacher reassignment centers” the vast majority were returned to classrooms, a handful were charged with inappropriate conduct, and, the time frames for hearing cases were expedited. Instead of more than 200 days the agreement reduced the time frame to 120 days and currently cases are heard and resolved in 97 days.
A few cases linger from the pre-agreement days because the State, who pays the arbitrators, takes 18 months to pay the arbitrator and some arbitrators are withholding the decision until they are paid. The teacher simply sits in some administrative office at full pay which seems just fine to the city that does nothing to force the State to pay the arbitrator.
Let’s ask a simple question: why hasn’t the Department attempted to dismiss incompetent teachers?
A simple answer: they do not think that their own principals, the one’s they hired, have the skills and abilities to prepare cases.
A new position, Talent Coach, has been posted on the Department website, a position to train principals to rate teachers, after ten years of running the school system!!
Principals should be entering classrooms many times a day with “cycles of frequent brief observations with meaningful feedback.” If a teacher’s performance is lacking the supervisor can arrange for formal (requiring a pre-observation meeting) observation as well as informal observations. Each observation is memorialized in a letter for file, the teacher can respond to the letter in writing. The principal should point to specific deficiencies in the lesson, recommend corrective actions, perhaps arrange for the teacher to observe other teachers, have a coach work with the teacher, assign a mentor teacher, etc., actions to assist the teacher in improving their practice.
Principals complain: “It’s very time consuming.”
Isn’t improving instruction the core of the job of the school supervisor?
Under the upcoming Danielson Rubrics the job of the principal will be even more concentrated on improving instruction.
In the pre-Klein days principals were required to identify teachers whose performance may lead to an unsatisfactory rating. A deputy superintendent observed the teacher to validate the opinion of the school supervisor. As the union rep I was informed that the teacher may receive an unsatisfactory rating. The union might encourage the teacher to apply to the Peer Intervention Program.
The rating was the result of observations by the assistant principal, the principal and a representative of the superintendent.
In the ten years of Children First, the Bloomberg years, no policy has been put in place to guide the principal in the “teacher evaluation leading to dismissal” process.
The reason is not complicated. The Department fears that they will lose before an arbitrator. In fact the mayor is fond of trashing arbitrators. In an outrageous interview he accused arbitrators of being beholden to the union. (Sounds like the Tea Party slamming the judicial process)
In a system of 70,000 teachers I’m sure there are scores, or hundreds, or who knows how many teachers who are stumbling. Some are learning their jobs, some might be burnt out, and some have just survived under the radar.
Management has always had an obligation to:
* Hire the best possible employees, be it teachers or supervisors.
* Support them through on the job professional development
* Regularly assess their performance and offer assistance when necessary
* Move to dismiss employees whose performance remains unsatisfactory after offering a range of supports.
The Department has been a miserable failure.
* Hiring is done by principals at school sites, a key criteria is the salary of the teacher. Under the Fair Student Funding formula a teacher’s full salary is charged to the school account – a disincentive to hire senior teachers (NYC is the ONLY city in the nation to continue to use this system). The Open Market System allows any teacher to transfer to any school. There is a steady flow of teachers from “difficult” schools in inner city neighborhoods to higher rated schools in “better” neighborhoods. The result: weaker teachers tend to be concentrated in “difficult” schools.
* Professional development is left to the networks and schools. The Department has no idea, and, apparently no concern, over the effectiveness of professional development.
* Principal time “in classrooms” is minimal at best, disgraceful as it seems principals have a great deal of difficulty in writing teacher assessments.
* Currently, out of a system of tens of thousands of teachers, I am told about twenty or so teachers are awaiting or involved in hearings that may lead to dismissal for incompetence. 20 out of 70,000
No one supports “bad” teachers.
The union insists that all teachers charged with poor performance or misconduct are entitled to a due process hearing before a jointly chosen neutral – in NYS an arbitrator.
The union has fought for fair, expedited time frames – in NYC the time frame is 120 days and cases are resolved in less time.
The penalties range from dismissal, to suspensions without pay to fines to reprimands. Forty years of case law determine the basis for the penalty.
The political side of Tweed worries – what happens if we lose cases? What happens if the penalties are less than dismissal?
We can trash the system; we can trash the arbitrators and dump the teacher in the ATR pool.
How about training principals, how about putting a peer support program in place? How about working with the union on building a meaningful professional development program?
Bloomberg has had ten years … I fear we will continue to duel with the politics of education rather than the realities of teachers and students in classrooms for the remaining 19 months of the tragedy called Children First.