Tag Archives: Dan Weisberg

The Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR): Why is Bad Policy So Difficult to Abandon?

It’s embarrassing when leaders of school systems, or cities, or states adopt egregious policies based on false premises. The former governor of Kansas was convinced that if you drastically cut taxes the state economy with grow and create jobs.

Gov. Sam Brownback’s leadership of Kansas came to be synonymous with a single, unyielding philosophy: Cut taxes, cut the size of government, and the state will thrive.

But this week, Mr. Brownback’s deeply conservative state turned on him and his austere approach. Fed up with gaping budget shortfalls, inadequate education funding and insufficient revenue, the Republican-controlled Legislature capped months of turmoil by overriding the governor’s veto of a bill that would undo some of his tax cuts and raise $1.2 billion over two years.

At the end of July President Trump nominated Brownback as “Religious Ambassador at large,” removing him from Kansas politics.

A dozen years ago Dan Weisberg, at that time the head of Human Resources at the Department of Education under the Bloomberg/Klein administration negotiated a section of the teacher union contract: excess teachers would no longer be placed in vacancies in schools, they would be placed in a pool from which teachers could selected by principals to fill vacant positions, and, those not selected would continue to receive full benefits and serve as the equivalent of substitute teachers.. Joel Klein, the leader of the school system immediately began to trash the ATRs, they were “bad,” teachers, were under investigation, etc., and tried to get the state legislature to change the “last in, first out” seniority rules, rules that had been in place for decades.

The New York Post and other conservative sites supported Klein and the canard that ATRs, if they weren’t selected by principals must be bad teachers became “sticky.” The number of ATRs grew and grew.

As Bloomberg/Klein closed schools, they closed about 150 schools, the ATR pool grew to about 1500 teachers.

According to Chalkbeat, the education news website the ATR pool costs about 150 million dollars a year. The Weisberg “innovation” has cost the city, using the Chalkbeat numbers 1.5 to 2 billion dollars.

The current de Blasio/Farina administration announced a plan to sharply reduce the pool. Buyouts were offered to ATRs, and, the controversial part, ATRs will be assigned to vacancies in schools that occur after October 15th, and will be evaluated and rated as all other teachers. If they receive effective or highly effective ratings they will be permanently assigned to the school. ATRs will be observed the same way as all other teachers at the school, a combination of formal and informal, four to six times a year, and if performance is poor, observed by an outside assessor. As all other teachers their rating will fall under the matrix system, a combination of supervisory observations and measurements of student learning (MOSL). If a teacher receives two ineffective ratings under the new law (sec 3012 d) the Department can prefer charges and the burden of proof is on the teacher.

The lengthy process of the past is gone, the new system that combines observations and student learning is supported by the unions and the school districts.

The current ATR pool, about 800 should be reduced by half in the first year and virtually eliminated by the second year.

The New York Post continues to hammer away. (See story here ). Yes, the pool has teachers accused of “misconduct,” the question: why weren’t the accusations pursued? The answer: the Department lawyers say, not enough evidence, in the past, a speedy investigation, a letter of reprimand or charges, today: the easy way, assigned to the ATR pool permanently. A “conviction” without a trial, a stain that effectively bars a teacher from the classroom.  ATR pool teachers become modern day Hester Prynne, wearing the ATR stain as a Scarlet Letter.

And by the way, do principals do a good job of selecting new teachers?  About 40% leave within five years and in high need schools the percentage is much higher. I have sat on numerous hiring committees, sadly principals, and teachers who sit on these committees are untrained. The questions are inane, (“Why do you want to become a teacher?”  “What are your views on restorative justice practices?”) I urged hiring teams to require the candidate bring a lesson plan and the interview focus on the implementation of the plan. New teachers should be matched with an experienced teacher, school should build teams by grade and subject; and, the elephant in the room, are there long lists of highly effective teachers wafting to be hired?  Experienced teachers in the ATR pool can be a valuable school resource.

Randy Asher, the former principal of Brooklyn Tech, an enormously complicated very large high school was tapped to phase out the ATR system: an excellent choice.

What is the “misconduct” that resulted in a teacher being moved to the pool: the most frequent misconduct is insubordination, aka, an argument with the principal.  The “easy way out,” dump the teacher into the ATR pool instead of the principal and the superintendent resolving the incident.

The transition from ATR to full time classroom teacher is not automatic: teachers who have been in the pool for a number of years will need intensive professional development to prepare them to take the reins of classroom.

“Easy way outs” are always the wrong way out, avoiding responsibility is not a policy. The Bloomberg/Klein/Weisberg approach was bad from day one and based on seriously flawed premises: firing “bad” teachers instead of building the capacity of all staff, from superintendents to principals to teachers.

Superintendents leading/facilitating collaborative school climates with rich curricula as a bedrock leads to more effective learning environments.

Ridding the school system of bad policies based on faulty premises is difficult, the bad policies stick around, no one wants to admit that the policy was seriously flawed. Instead of panning the Farina administration, the administration should be lauded for hiring an experienced educator to phase out the pool is long overdue.

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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.