Friday, October 30, 2009

ATRs, Chicago, New Haven, and NY State Plan for Massive School Closings

That headline certainly is a mouthful. But there's a lot on the table in this post, so hang in.

Let's try to connect all the dots. (I put the entire series of links to articles mentioned here up on Norms Notes. Read them and weep.)

Let me start with this great quote from Leonie Haimson:

Why should any teacher be summarily be fired unless the decision is based on some objective criteria? Again, the stigma of being associated with a failing school is enough for the editors, which will provide a powerful disincentive for any experienced teacher to choose to move to a low-performing school. This is akin to blaming the workers at a GM factory for the conditions that led to the firm’s bankruptcy. Should they be barred from every being employed in the industry again if Toyota set up shop in the factory?

Think: close massive numbers of schools and create non-unionized charters.

Problem: that pesky UFT contract that guarantees ATRs created by closing schools and excessing will continue to be paid.

Solution: follow the Chicago and Washington DC model of giving ATRs one year to find a job or they're out. With the UFT contract expiring on Halloween, there is speculation the UFT will pull a sellout and give them what they want. (See Jennifer Medina's article - for which she interviewed me but I didn't make the cut- in today's Times).

Problem #2: This is the point I made to Jenny Medina. With an internal election coming this Jan/March, can the Unity/Mulgrew operation afford to give up the ATRs before then? Not that they expect to lose, but with almost every teacher in the system facing ATRdom, the fright factor might drive votes to the ICE/TJC slate and provide a sense of a growing and credible opposition.

Historically, the UFT/Unity machine comes in with a contract timed to the internal election, usually between November and January. So, there should be a contract signed soon after the mayoral election without any open attacks on ATRs, other than some definitive buyout offers, which is actually part of the 2005 contract. Now, there might be some hidden stuff in there. Like a "guarantee" for protection of ATRs that in reality will turn out to have no teeth.

Marjorie Stamberg comments on the Times article urging people to be vigilant:

Last year's demonstration at Tweed is a key reason why the DOE was forced to step back on its constant teacher-bashing and vilification of ATRs. Action by the ranks was important in getting UFT officialdom to try to deal with the problem they helped created in the first place by giving up seniority transfers and agreeing to principal control of hiring and the phony "open market" -- key elements of the corporate agenda for "education reform."

Make sure to watch the video I made of that crazy day - The Video the UFT Doesn't Want You To See: The ATR Rally

A Village Voice hit job on ATRs?

Gotham School gals Anna Philips and Phylissa Cramer wrote a disappointing piece on ATRs for the Village Voice (The City's Bid to Save Cash Leaves New Teachers Out in the Cold), that some teachers are viewing as part of the hit job on ATRs. The piece is all sympathetic for those poor new teachers (and most likely much more wonderful than any ATR) whose hopes about getting a job were dashed by the existence of those foul ATRs. There's not one quote from an ATR who's been screwed, but Ariel Sack's attack on the ATRs in her school is referenced. TILT!!

Here is one interesting point in the Philips/Cramer piece:

Much could depend on the outcome of the UFT's latest contract negotiations, which began last month. Teachers, city officials, and labor experts are speculating that the city will try to negotiate a time limit for how long teachers can remain in the ATR pool. The city says the reserve teachers—who are guaranteed a full salary—are costing the system millions of dollars that otherwise could be used to bring in new teachers who principals want to hire. Already, the DOE is pressuring ATRs harder than ever to find jobs, for the first time requiring them to interview at schools with openings in their field and to attend job fairs. Those who don't are subject to the department's disciplinary process. Chancellor Klein has said repeatedly that he would like to see a time limit placed on the hiring process, giving ATRs nine months to a year to find a new position before being terminated.

"The entire ATR situation is the result of a failed management strategy," says Dick Riley, a UFT spokesman. He insists the union is no happier about the ATR situation than the city is: "The DOE was aware that as it closed schools and cut back programs, veteran teachers would become available for new assignments, yet it continued to recruit new teachers. The result has been that some newcomers did not get the jobs they had been led to expect, and many veteran teachers are now working as substitutes."

NY State plans massive school closings

Then comes this NY Post reporter Yoav Gonen article (State charting new course for old HS's) that expands the idiocy, as the state wants to close a number of large high schools and create, not only thousands of ATRs, but thousands of high school kids floating around looking for new schools.

Here are a few choice tidbits from Yoav's piece:

State officials are seeking to dismantle as many as a dozen large city high schools and turn many of the newly created smaller schools that will occupy their buildings into charters, The Post has learned. Officials said they're also looking to partner with outside managers, such as CUNY and New Visions for Public Schools, to help run some of the newly formed schools. The controversial plan will be included in New York's application for a share of $4.3 billion in federal education aid, known as Race to the Top, which requires states to detail how they'll turn around their lowest-performing schools.

....this marks the first time that charter-school managers, who operate less than a handful of high schools in the city, have been asked to get involved in such restructuring.

sources said schools that are likely to make the list include Columbus and Gompers high schools in The Bronx, and Sheepshead Bay HS in Brooklyn -- although the principal at Sheepshead Bay denied her school would be on the list.

Schools on the state's annual list of failing schools -- including Boys and Girls HS in Brooklyn and even a number of middle schools -- are also likely contenders.

"There is not going to be a person in New York state who will be able to defend any of the schools that end up on our replacement list," state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said at a recent conference. "It's not going to be a controversial list."

Chicago/Duncan model of school of school closings shows fault lines of policy

Merryl Tisch ought to read the report about the failure of Duncan's school closing policies in Chicago Report Questions Duncan’s Policy of Closing Failing Schools. With the emphasis on charters, they need to get that charter cap lifted and the pressure to do so to get that stimulus Race to the top money will be intense. But be assured, after they close almost every large high school and the city is awash in ATRs and a floating band of kids with no schools to go to, we will be reading a similar report in a few years. Unless they cover it up.

This story about the failures of the Ed Deform policy in the urban area with the longest history of mayoral control and ed deform was almost buried in the NY Times yesterday exposing so much of the ed deform program of closing schools. I included the Ed Week article and some comments by Leonie Haimson in my post of the reports at Norms Notes.
But here are some excerpts:
“If the findings are correct­—for Chicago, at least—we have to question the value of closing schools and creating the dislocations that would attend those school closings for little or no constructive result,” said Daniel L. Duke, a professor of educational leadership at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville.

Julie Woestehoff, the executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, a Chicago advocacy group often critical of Mr. Duncan’s initiatives as district chief, said the study’s findings are more evidence that the district’s reform strategies are not working. The group has called for the end of Renaissance 2010, a district program that closes low-performing schools and replaces them with charter and charterlike schools run by private groups.

“When Arne Duncan announced this program, he said it was going to lead to dramatically better education for the children. We were hoping that would be true,” Ms. Woestehoff said. “There hasn’t really been any payoff from all the money that has been spent and all the disruption that has been caused to communities and especially to students.”

Chicago’s school closings returned to the spotlight this fall after a high school student was brutally beaten and killed in a fight near a South Side high school. Local activists have contended that the school closings created a dangerous mixture of students from rival neighborhoods. Mr. Duncan said earlier this month that blaming school closings for the uptick in violence was “absolutely ridiculous.” ("Outcry Against Violence," Oct. 14, 2009.)

New Haven teacher contract
The lunacy continues with Thursday's editorial in the Times on the New Haven schools contract, where our old friend and Klein Klone Garth Harries, who was hired on the recommendation of Ed Notes (Garth Harries Leaves DOE as Ed Notes Helps Pass Klein Lemons) is doing his magic. As I reported based on my conversation with a New Haven official, Harries was hired specifically because his ties to the BloomKlein administration were thought to give the city a leg up on getting stimulus money. Note the praise for Randi's AFT/UFT:

Education Secretary Arne Duncan is right to push the nation’s schools to develop teacher evaluation systems that take student achievement into account. The teachers’ unions, which have long opposed the idea, are beginning to realize that they can either stand on the sidelines or help develop these systems. We hope they will get involved and play a constructive role.

The politically savvy American Federation of Teachers has decided that it is better to get in the game. In New Haven, the union has agreed in its new contract to develop an evaluation system in collaboration with the city. Secretary Duncan praised the agreement lavishly. But the accolades seem premature given that crucial details have yet to be worked out.

Leonie Haimson connects the dots between the school closings, New Haven, and Chicago stories

As ususal, Leonie Haimson puts it all together with these comments, which offer more of a defense of teachers rights than we ever hear coming from the UFT:

Today’s Times editorial delivers faint praise for the New Haven teacher union deal –because “administrators will be able to remove the entire staff at a failing school and require teachers to reapply for their jobs. This should allow the new principals to build stronger teams.”

(Teachers who are not rehired at these so-called turnaround schools will have the right to be placed elsewhere, at least until they are evaluated, which means that New Haven could still end up passing around teachers who should be ushered out of the system.)

Why should any teacher be summarily be fired unless the decision is based on some objective criteria? Again, the stigma of being associated with a failing school is enough for the editors, which will provide a powerful disincentive for any experienced teacher to choose to move to a low-performing school. This is akin to blaming the workers at a GM factory for the conditions that led to the firm’s bankruptcy. Should they be barred from every being employed in the industry again if Toyota set up shop in the factory?

The Times editors also criticize the deal for requiring that evaluations be made on multiple factors – with the factors weighted by a committee including teachers and administrators.

To be taken seriously, the evaluation system must be based on a clear formula in which the student achievement component carries the preponderance of the weight. It must also include a fine-grained analysis that tells teachers where they stand.

The Times, like Michelle Rhee, now implicitly equates “student achievement” with standardized test scores – without openly admitting that these words are being used as an euphemism because of the widespread unpopularity (and unreliability) of using test scores alone.

Indeed, there is no system that can reliably tie teacher performance overall to student test scores; there are too many uncontrolled variables and hidden factors. .

Meanwhile, Sam Dillon covers the report we posted yesterday, showing that most of the students who were transferred out of closing schools in Chicago did no better elsewhere, and the disruption in their lives caused their test scores to dip in the months following their transfer

Report Questions Duncan's Policy of Closing Failing Schools

… the report’s findings are likely to provoke new debate about Mr. Duncan’s efforts to encourage the use of Chicago’s turnaround strategy nationwide. He has set the goal of closing and overhauling 1,000 failing schools a year nationwide, for five years, and Congress appropriated $3 billion in the stimulus law to finance the effort.

Too bad the Times editors didn’t read this article first.

Now, it’s scary that, according to the NY Post, the model of closing schools and giving them over to charter schools and other management companies like New Visions is coming to NYC – as part of the state’s “Race to the top” application. No mention of the fact that the small schools that already exist and the charters enroll fewer low-performing students in order to get better results.

The difference between the school closure model and the “turn around” model is more semantics than anything else. In both cases, the strategy seems like a blunt instrument: focused on replacing teachers and students with a new crew, rather than actually improving conditions on the ground to allow them to become more successful. I predict that neither New Visions nor the charter schools will be willing to take the bait unless they are given substantial financial subsidies, and/or allowed to pick and choose the students they want, while discharging most of those already in the building to parts unknown.

For more, see State charting new course for old HS's at

This is the kind of stuff that should be in the NY Teacher. If I weren't supporting James Eterno, I would shout from the rooftops "Leonie for UFT president."


  1. thanks for reprinting my comments, Norm, but please stop promoting me as UFT president. I am neither qualified for this job, nor in a million years would I want it. How about instead promoting me for a position that I would like to fill? Like an editorial writer or columnist for the NY Times?

  2. Leonie
    You know I'm just tweaking the UFT leaders for not being able to get close to defending teachers as well as you do. I vote all the way for you to write editorials for the NY Times, but with a total BloomKlein tilt, we will see that proverbial snow ball in you know where before that happens.

  3. News flash on the contract negotiations between the United Federation of Teachers and the New York City Department of Education:

    The UFT is inclined to give in on the ATR (Absent Teacher Reserve) issue, in order to secure a four percent salary increase in the next contract. The leaked word is that the union would accede to the termination (firing, dismissal) of teachers who could not find permanent assignments after six months.
    This is apparently not only a NYC issue. The NYSUT, not just the UFT, needs to stand up and defend tenured teachers who have been excessed into ATR status.


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.