nice work if you can get it

Lost in the school closing debate: what happens to the teachers

In the debate over whether to close 19 schools this year, the city and its opponents have mulled possible effects on student achievement, attendance, and the drop-out rate. But one thing that remains unclear is what will happen to the approximately 1,000 teachers working in these schools.

Teachers who work at shuttered schools lose their positions, but — because of a deliberate line in the labor contract — they do not fall off the city payroll, even if they don’t find a new position at another city school. In the past few years, the contract line has meant a ballooning set of teachers receiving regular paychecks even though they don’t hold regular jobs. Between 2006 and April 2009, these members of the Absent Teacher Reserve cost the DOE approximately $193 million. This year, conservative estimates put the cost at $90 million.

In 2008, a report by The New Teacher Project, a New York-based research group, said the hiring process was “hard-wired for failure.” The report also found that 70 percent of excessed teachers from closing schools in 2007 were immediately hired at other schools.

But the situation next year could look worse.

The 1,000 teachers who leave those schools over the next four years will join 1,200 reserve pool members who are already looking for work. In September of 2008, there were 637 in the pool. The competition will be fiercer while the number of job openings could shrink as a result of education aid cuts from the state.

Neither the teachers union nor the Department of Education has, or would provide, projected numbers on how many teachers are expected to wind up in the reserve pool next year. Releasing how many teachers are likely to remain on the city’s payroll without permanent jobs could make both organizations uncomfortable. For the city, the information could strengthen the financial arguments against closing the schools. For the union, it could increase the pressure to stop paying teachers who have gone years without being able to find new jobs.

After a meeting last month during which the Panel for Educational Policy voted to close 19 schools, Chancellor Joel Klein said he didn’t think the closures would significantly inflate the reserve pool. “I don’t think it’ll climb radically,” he said.

The addition of teachers from closing schools to the reserve pool may not be radical, but it’s likely to have a greater impact this year than in years past.

The majority of teachers in the 19 schools slated for closure next year are working in high schools, which will phase out over four years, meaning that about a quarter of them will lose their jobs each year.

If the current climate resembled that of June 2007, most of these teachers would likely find new jobs by September of the following school year and fewer than 100 would be in the reserve pool. But in 2010, the story is likely to be different.

Teachers excessed from closing schools could benefit from a hiring freeze that forces principals to hire from within the system, rather than from the graduate classes of teaching colleges. But what little help this might offer could be counteracted by a contraction in the number of available jobs. Bloomberg is threatening to cut 2,500 teaching positions if the union doesn’t agree to lower pay raises and Governor Paterson is pushing about $600 million in cuts that the city said could reduce the teaching force by 8,500.

A diagram from the New Teacher Project report shows three differently sized closing schools and what happened to the teachers who left them in the summer of 2007.


after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on the department's FY2019 budget. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.