Tag Archives: ATR Pool

Ridding Schools of the Bloomberg/Klein Toxicity: Ending the Absent Teacher Reserve Pool in New York City is Long Overdue

The 74 is a national online education website co-founded by Campbell Brown, a former news anchor and virulent enemy of teacher unions, supporter of charter schools and Betsy; it is an advocacy website masquerading as a an informational site.

I was not surprised when a post by Dan Weisberg, former Joel Klein soldier popped up on the 74 site.  Weisberg currently leads TNTP, a not-for-profit that has consistently attacked teacher tenure and teacher assessment. The post, “Paying Teachers Not to Teach is Absurd – but Reviving NYC’s Dance of the Lemons Hurts Kids,” sounds like one of the endless press releases from the Bloomberg-Klein machine. Klein, an attorney, surrounded himself with attorneys, and we know what Shakespeare said about lawyers . Klein and Weisberg and company portrayed themselves as “disrupters,” changing the system by breaking down and rebuilding  from scratch, by creating chaos and building a new system from the ground up. After a dozen years of disruptive change the administration succeeded in disruption and failed to ensure positive change. The whirlwind of policy change after policy change alienated principals and teachers and confused the public.

On the eve of the 2013 mayoral election Sol Stern, in a City Journal essay offering advice to the new mayor wrote,

The public, for its part, remains dissatisfied with Gotham’s schools, according to a poll of city voters commissioned by the Manhattan Institute and conducted earlier this year by Zogby Analytics ….  New Yorkers now trust the oft-maligned teachers more than they trust the mayor’s office: almost half of all respondents said that teachers should “play the largest role in determining New York City’s education policy,” compared with 28 percent who thought that the mayor-appointed schools chancellor should.

A little background: for decades a few hundred teachers were excessed at the end of a school year, some schools had reduced registers, other schools had increasing registers. The excess teachers were placed in schools with vacancies, The contract Excessing Rules provided an orderly transition since the first contracts in the early sixties.

Another section of the contract provided for Seniority Transfers, half of all vacancies, vacancies were defined as open positions due to retirement or resignation, not leaves of absence, and posted in the Spring, In the early nineties a school approached the union with a plan, exempt the school from seniority transfers and a school committee made up of a majority of teachers would select new hires. The union agreed and after a few years the process was embedded in the contract. By the Bloomberg ascension 60% of schools had opted for what became known as the School-Based Option Staffing and Transfer Plan.

In the article referenced above Weisberg, with obvious pride, reports that he led the part of the negotiations that eliminated seniority transfers and established the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool.

The union was pushing for the SBO Staffing/Transfer Plan to replace the seniority transfer plan – it was easy to agree to the Open Market employment system – any teacher could move to any school with the approval of the receiving school; basically all teachers became “free agents” at the end of every school year. Thousands upon thousands of teachers change school every year, and, the movement is commonly from high poverty, lower achieving schools to higher achieving schools.

The evidence is clear, teacher mobility damages high poverty, low-achieving schools, In “Teacher Quality and Teacher Mobility, Li Feng and Tim Sass (February, 2011) conclude,

The most effective teachers who transfer tend to go to schools whose faculties are in the top quartile of teacher quality. Teacher mobility exacerbates differences in teacher quality across schools.

Numerous studies come to the same conclusion,

Hamilton Langford and others, “Explaining the Short Career of High-Achieving Teachers in Schools with Low-Performing Students,” (January, 2004),

Low achieving students often are taught by the least qualified teachers, these disparities begin when teachers take their first jobs and in urban areas they are worsened by teacher subsequent decisions to transfer and quit. Such quits and transfers increase disparities …  more qualified teachers are substantially more likely to leave schools having the lowest achieving students 

The long established seniority transfer plan required five years of service before a transfer – now annual “free agency,” the “disrupters” harmed the most vulnerable schools.

Weisberg, et. al., also are proud of the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, actually an attempt to rid the system is “bad teachers,” or maybe senior teachers, or maybe union activists or maybe simply to show the union and teachers who really was in charge.

The number of U-ratings under Klein/Weisberg escalated dramatically, close to 3% of teacher received unsatisfactory ratings. The appeals were a sham, the Department was judge and jury. Accusations of misconduct, defined as any conduct the principal thought was inappropriate, conduct that in prior years might result in a letter of reprimand now resulted in a trip to the infamous “rubber room.”. Eventually the teacher was dumped into the ATR pool; of the small number of teachers who were brought up on charges the vast percentage were exonerated or paid a fine and were returned to the ATR pool. The aim was to convince the legislature to change the law and require the teachers in the ATR pool for more than six months would be laid off. The union successfully defended seniority layoff rules.

Under the new teacher assessment law, based on principal observation and student growth scores, the number of ineffective ratings shrunk to pre-Bloomberg numbers.

The deBlasio-Farina Department has announced that ATRs would fill vacancies occurring after October 15th, and, if they received effective or highly effective ratings under the matrix teacher evaluation law, would be fully absorbed into schools, ending a toxic policy and saving the school system perhaps $100 million a year.

The “March of the Lemons” referenced by Weisberg should not refer to the teachers, it should refer to the “disrupters.” would soured the school system.

Additionally, the Department should consider:

* Creating an inspectorate, a group of principals who can observe ATRs who principals think are moving towards an ineffective rating. In the pre-Bloomberg days it was commonplace for the superintendent to observe teachers in their last year of probation.

* Open Market transfers require five years of service in a school to be eligible for transfer, not the current annual “free agency.”

* Renewal and Focus/Priority schools should be given a window prior to all other schools to hire staff – perhaps six or eight weeks before all other schools could commence hiring.

Each and every year the New York City school system has to hire 3-4,000 new teachers due to teacher attrition – about 40% of teachers leave within five years, and, in the neediest schools the percentage is far higher.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers project at Harvard published research findings, “Finders and Keepers: Helping New Teachers Survive and Thrive in Our Schools, (March , 2004), as well as continuing their research into the issue.

Unfortunately little of the research has translated into policies within school districts and schools.

Good riddance to the ATR pool, and, lets help teachers who need assistance and support our new teachers.

Healing and supporting makes a lot more sense than disrupting and angering.

Let’s Assign the Teachers in the ATR Pool to Classrooms Now!! 1200 Teachers Should Have Permanent Assignments Teaching Kids Every Day.

Once upon a time the news side and the editorial side of newspapers were totally separate – now only fond memories. The NY Daily News has run two articles “reporting” on plans to dissolve the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) pool, the articles (here and here) in reality are editorials masked as news articles panning the efforts.

Teachers have been excessed from schools for decades – schools lost funding, lost student enrollment and schools closed. The teachers were simply placed into others schools in the district, the system did not dissolve in chaos and confusion, the excessed teachers ranged from teachers in the system for a year to two to senior teachers.

As part of the 2005 union contract agreement teachers received substantial raises, and, the department changed the system – rather than assigning excessed teachers to other schools the department placed them in a “pool,” the teachers must seek their own jobs on the Open Market, the department’s internal job seeking site, and in the meantime are assigned to a different school each week. Joel Klein, the chancellor trashed teachers in the ATR pool and vigorously sought legislation to lay off, in effect fire, teachers in the ATR pool after a fixed amount of time.

Teachers in the ATR pool are observed by ATR field supervisors and rated as are all other teachers. No surprise, they fall on a bell-shaped curve – 2/3 range from C- to C+ … Unfortunately the new mayor and chancellor have “bought into” the canard that principals should have the right to hire ALL teachers. The 2.8% of teachers who received an unsatisfactory rating in June, 2013 were all hired by principals, the 30-40% of teachers who had their probation extended were hired by their principals, the 40% of teachers who leave before five years were hired by their principals, the 70% of teachers in high needs middle schools who leave after three years were hired by their own principals.(See “Who Stays, Who Leaves” Study)

Looks like principals don’t do such a good job of hiring…

1200 teachers = a hundred million dollars.

The department has been wasting a hundred million dollars not to improve the school system – the ATR system is a political ploy to rid the system of seniority and tenure, an attack on the union that costs the city 100 million a year – not only disgraceful, but cruel.

Among the 1200 teachers in the ATR pool are over 200 guidance counselors.

Why not assign them to suspension centers and transfer high schools to counsel at-risk kids?

How about assigning them to schools with high percentages of kids from shelters?

How about assigning teachers to schools with large percentages of high needs kids to work one-on-one? Actually tutoring kids…

With the wave of a pen 1200 educators could actually be working with kids.

If 1% or 5% or 10% are inadequate do what management is supposed to do … document, offer assistance, assign a mentor, and, take actions to dismiss the teacher, it’s called due process – the rule of law.

I was speaking with two elementary school teachers … they knew I was a “union activist,” they said to tell the powers that be that in next contract they want money and respect.

For a dozen years there has been a growing denigration of teachers, nice words and disrespectful actions. Teachers feel beaten down, unappreciated, and frustrated.

The abolition of the ATR Pool would start by saving 100 million; just as important it would symbolize a school leadership willing to roll back the ludicrous policies of the old guard.

When the department reorganized the GED programs and other parts of the alternative high school program (District 79) the department and the union negotiated expedited procedures for the placement of staff) … the same can be done for ATR teachers.

Let’s get started redesigning the school system for the benefit of the kids.