On October 16th the Department of Education began to assign ATRs to vacancies in schools without the approval of the principal. The New York Times ran a harsh article along with sharply critical editorials in the Post and the Daily News . Unfortunately the entire process is misunderstood.
Teachers have been excessed from schools for decades, schools lost enrollment and the junior teacher was bumped and placed in another school in the district; it was an orderly procedure without favoritism or politics. In the late eighties the former Board of Education began closing schools, the Board and the Union negotiated a process; half the teachers in the replacement schools would be excess teachers from the closing school; although they did had to exhibit qualifications through an interview conducted by a Board-Union committee; once again, an orderly process.
In the early nineties a school proposed a new teacher placement plan to the Union. A committee consisting of a majority of teachers would interview and select all staff and be exempt form the seniority transfer plan. By 2005 60% of schools had opted for the School-Based Option (SBO) Staffing and Transfer Plan.
The 2005 Board-Union contract negotiations, the first for Bloomberg offered substantial raises and the Union agreed to the end the seniority plan and replace with the Open Market assignment system. All positions posted online, any teacher can transfer to any school, no years of experience required, only the approval of the accepting principal required: teacher “free agency”.
Additionally, teachers excessed from school would no longer be placed permanently in a school, the Department created an Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), the ATRs could apply for Open Market vacancies; ATRs were assigned on a temporary rotational basis to schools. As the Bloomberg administration accelerated school closures the ATR pool grew to over a thousand teachers.
Under the Fair Student Funding formula used to allocate funds to schools actual teacher salary is credited against the school budget, a principal has to weigh potential teacher performance and teacher salary, a system clearly biased against higher paid senior teachers.
Bloomberg/Klein vigorously lobbied to change the law, to mirror the process in Chicago and Washington, if an excess teacher fails to find in a job in a specific period of time, regardless of their years of service, they are laid off. In spite of the efforts the legislature had no interest in changing the law.
The ATR pool also contains teachers who were accused of either misconduct or incompetence, some were never found guilty of anything, and others were found guilty and paid a fine or a suspension; instead of being returned to a school the Department dumped them into the pool.
Of the teachers brought up on charges the vast percentage are accused of misconduct, not incompetence. The hearing officer, jointly selected by the Union and the Department, listens to witnesses; the burden of proof is on the Department, who must show by “preponderance of evidence” that the accused committed the acts with which they were charged. The hearing officer can dismiss the charges or, if he finds the teacher guilty, can reprimand, fine, suspend without pay or dismiss the teacher. Misconduct, for example, using inappropriate language, inappropriate discipline, an insubordinate act, etc., if the teacher has received satisfactory ratings for performance the penalty is rarely dismissal.
I was waiting to represent a teacher at a disciplinary hearing, the superintendent called me aside,
“How can you represent this teacher, he’ a terrible teacher?”
“You hired him, you gave him tenure and no one observed him in class.”
The superintendent reviewed the observation policy and required regular classroom observations with pre and post observation meetings.
The current teacher evaluation system combines supervisory observations and student progress as assessed by Measures of Student Learning (MOSL), described in the ADVANCE Guide for Educators, 2016-17 here .
Teachers currently are rated highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective; ATRs are rated under the former satisfactory or unsatisfactory system by a team of roving supervisors.
Under the current agreement ATRs will be assigned to vacancies, if they are rated effective or highly effective at the end of the school year under the ADVANCE system they will be permanently assigned to the school.
The ADVANCE system requires a combination of 4 or 6 formal and/or informal observations for each teacher, far different from the prior days of few observations. Principals are not happy; thirty teachers equal between 120 and 180 teacher observations by the supervisory staff, and, the other half, the MOSL can be at variance with principal judgment.
Sadly, among the 800 or so ATRs there some who areunsatisfactory, the Department, instead of regularly observing teachers, offering the assistance, chose the easy path; dump them into the ATR pool and forget about them.
Hopefully under new leadership the ATR process will both place teachers into classrooms as well as monitor performance, work with teachers to improve their performance, and, if necessary pursue charges of incompetence under the law.
The disparity in teacher observations is a serious issue, a former Gates program officer writes,
Classroom observation is a deceptively difficult undertaking. Most teachers and administrators think they know good teaching when they see it. And they are confident in their ability to assess it accurately. I saw this firsthand as a district administrator. Occasionally, I would join teams of central office and site-based administrators on classroom visits. Invariably, as we approached the classroom, someone would mention how quickly he or she would be able to tell whether the teacher inside was “good”. Others would agree, some boasting that they could make the determination even faster.
Yet afterward, the administrators often disagreed, coming up with differing assessments of the instruction and citing varying pieces of evidence to make their case. Given the disparate opinions, it was hard to see how classroom observation could ever serve to improve teaching at scale.
The current multiple measures system used in New York City merges multiple formal and informal teachers observations with student performance metrics.
Teachers should be in classrooms; the ATR process was poor practice in 2005 and is still poor practice.