Disgraceful. Why Has the Department Failed to Develop a System to Train/Assess/Dismiss Teachers?

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.

15 responses to “Disgraceful. Why Has the Department Failed to Develop a System to Train/Assess/Dismiss Teachers?

  1. How about that! This blog entry exposes the major reason that the DOE has failed in its current mission. Without skilled, credible, master teacher experience, how can a Principal (the full title used to be Principal Teacher) possibly train, improve, evaluate and advance the skills of the staff of their school? They can’t!

    Bloombery and the various Chancellors he has put in place know the answer. Just hire green people, sometimes with no (often with minescule) teaching experience and make them Principals (or Chancellors).

    This cadre, very inexperienced and vulnerable, is subject to a DOE whip while expecting them to improve school “scores” assembled from specious data. The DOE vociferously protects them from dismissal, even for the most egregious conduct. Examples abound-sexual misbehavior, fiscal improprieties, conduct unbecoming their professional rank, mismanagement, etc. No discipline. Principals disgraced get moved, or even return from resignation. No prosecution ever.

    To be fair, when you hire those with no experience (or little) and when you dismiss them incorrectly wouldn’t you have to admit the hiring or the bungled termination was YOUR fault?

    Not one Principal has been let go for failing to train, improve, evaluate, or advance skills.

    Thousands of kids lose their opportunity for a great NYC Public education.



  2. Even more tragic is that these misbehaving administrators are moved to the CFN(Community First Network) and given jobs advising current principals and evaluating teaching practices. In the NYC Board of Ed administrators who fail are promoted.


  3. Best blog ever. Wish it could be front page in all major medias… Teaching is the only profession that doesn’t promote those with great experience and the only profession where the adults do not HAVE to meet and share/report.

    What does Eric have to say??? [sound of crickets]


  4. Pingback: Remainders: Zuckerberg’s IPO yield rivals city schools budget | GothamSchools

  5. i agree totally with the idea you need teacher leaders becoming principals but the current process to eliminate a bad teacher is a joke. i work in at will environment and guess what — you have to be careful to have a file on someone to fire them… but not a legal file that requires radically special skills.

    due process is not a good idea and it needs to go.. in education the difficulty in removing low performers is shocking to an outsider who has come into this work.. shocking… it’s a joke and a scam and a union that has ovestepped its power and hurt children …. the management is also frankly of low quality as compared to my experience in private sector..although there are some who are exceptional… most princpals .. especially the men… should probably have jobs like coach of the football team. in the suburbs these people wouldnt have jobs….leading schools. my sense is few people of quality want to teach urban children and the rest are fighting over the scraps


    • What do you think “having a file ” is? It’s a form of due process! A school has three years of service to make a decision to keep someone—3YEARS. So why is it that there frequently is NO document, but the dismissed employee stays dismissed?

      Don’t blame any union for representing its members. Blame the lame administrators, and blame more those who allow the lame ones to wreak havoc and remain.

      Some adminitrators complain (as do you) of how difficult it is. You have “swallowed the Cool-Aid”. In this system, with the lack of integrity now manifest, it’s a snap to let someone go. Furthermore, when appeals are filed, they are virtually always denied.

      I urge you to actually do the research to discover the truth.

      OBTW, outside of NYC, if one examines the teaching licenses of all principals the most frequently found is Phyical Education. The coaches are the ones with numerous and positive parent contact. They have the inside track with the school boards. Now you understand?


  6. Disgusted but not surprised

    If the city’s policies are so disgraceful re: education, why has the UFT decided to NOT back State Senate Bill 6915 which would eliminate mayoral control? Do they really expect Quinn to shy away from the buckets of DFER money and support the troops in the trenches (teachers)? As Norm says, watch what the UFT does, not what it says.


    • dont tell me that it is a snap to fire a teacher. that is bull!!! how shocking

      i know exactly what it takes… and it is a ridiculous process that takes hours and hours documenting and stupid meetings with the uft that could be spent on children

      Are many principals doing it poorly — yes — but are the good principals I know wasting hours on this. hours and hours on people who obviously are bad at their jobs. yes

      It is very hard to find great teachers. no one is firing great teachers for the fun of it. they are spending time trying to get damaging teachers away from kids… Knowing that peers who STINK will not get to keep their jobs help keep good teaches in the profession.

      I give you that the leadership in most schools is lacking. that job requires at least three people who are on the hook for results. not one and a bunch of a.p.s with no real stake in the game.

      accountability for all of them…. and its coming ….


  7. Thank you for this post! To whomever may be reading it, this is the reality! Education reform has been so focused on the teachers that it has overlooked the obvious weak link: administration. Administrators staff their schools. They’re responsible for hiring, developing, evaluating, and dismissing their teachers. The buck really must stop with them. Yet, in the mid-2000s administrators across the city, regardless of their performance (and many were failed teachers to begin with) were given 23+% pay raises. Some administrators’ salaries are through the roof…and for what? So they can be flackies for the current administration, leading the attack on curriculum (dumbed down for supposed “disadvantaged” children), teachers (how do they expect the good ones to stay while being insulted on a daily basis), and students and their parents (contrary to popular belief, most are decent, love their children, and want a sensible, functional system).


  8. Our ex-principal ran the school into the ground after 3 years. We went from being a B-school to an F-school. She resigned after a grade fixing-scam. Then she was given a job at the DOE as a coach – at full salary! Don’t go blaming teachers first – there’s plenty of mismanagement and wasted money at Tweed.


    • Hello, I’m looking for more information on talent coaches. Could you drop me a line at kate.briquelet (AT) gmail.com?


  9. My principal ran the school into the ground it closed and she got a job as a coach training teachers
    Great right


  10. Exactly! I was a Teaching Fellow, and when some of us expressed dissatisfaction with the kind of training we were receiving before we went to the classrooms, the answer was usually “Your mentor teacher and administrators will see to it that you have the proper professional development.”
    Many administrators want to hire Teaching Fellows and TFAers because we are cheap, knowing that there is a scant 5 weeks of training, and most are reluctant to put in the effort to to support them. Alternate certification programs do not work as they exist today.


  11. Wow! You said it all! In these 19 months we can all become ATRs & Bloomberg can hire legions of 22-year-olds. Why don’t we all stand together? I don’t care what school you work at, Bloomberg can get you & all it does is make the kids suffer.
    Im a teacher in a turnaround school, that is a good school. Why we all keep swallowing this nonsense is beyond me. It’s lies. Statistics can be botched quite easily. Why are we allowing other people to tell us our worth? I read comments that people from Martin Van Buren H S wrote on the insideschools website. Bloomberg might be filling their pockets too, sorry New School! They feel bad about their school. I can’t believe it. They’re not on any list. They’re not in the turnaround model, & they still feel badly? I guess it ain’t so great have a rich, well-married principal. But come on we are once again getting too far from the kids. Let’s get back to them.
    Every student in every Ed. program in the nation should tutor one kid for years. We’re moving too far away from the kids. I just started tutoring under the NCLB SES grant. 1:1. It’s magic! Too bad they’re cutting the funding, it’s going back in Mayor Mike’s pocket.
    But how can you say weaker teachers stay at the tougher schools? Can that really be true? Not anymore! Weaker teachers. These words are laughable. Give me 34 kids, all of them below grade level and talk to me about being “weaker.” While I run around the room reading everyone’s work, differentiating , handing out my typed examples, giving graphic organizers, catching up the kids who were absent and giving extra credit along with forgotten passwords to the online grade book. Talk to me about failure. DOE DOA ten years of setting me up to fail, setting those kids sitting before me up to fail. It’s amazing to help one student after school. When I work my ass off for the years below grade level students all day— all desperate for my attention & who gets it? How do I divide myself evenly in 46 minutes?


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