If you can believe this Chalkbeat NY article from Thursday, it looks like the principals in New York City public schools are ready to take a firm stand against the Department of Education force placing Absent Teacher Reserves in their schools for a year to cover certain vacancies. Since the giveback filled 2005 UFT contract, principals completely controlled the hiring process in each school. Chalkbeat interviewed several principals who are not at all satisfied over this limitation on their power.
For anyone who has not been monitoring the situation, DOE's Randy Asher said that ATRs will be placed in a school that has any remaining vacancies after October 15. Usually it is the more difficult to teach in schools that still have openings in October, often because they have principals who are tough to work with. If the teacher is rated Effective or Highly Effective on observations, they get to stay in the school permanently.
The principals are not going to take this reduction of their autonomy lying down. Here is an excerpt from the Chalkbeat piece:
“Many of them (ATRs) have been coming from schools that have been closed down or subject areas that were cut,” said Scott Conti, principal of New Design High School in Manhattan. “The majority of them were at schools that were highly dysfunctional.” He noted that some may have been out of the classroom for years and not getting proper professional development, effectively hindering their performance as teachers.
Conti said he did hire a teacher from the ATR pool three years ago, through the standard procedure he would use to hire other teachers. He objects to the idea of being forced to hire someone whose effectiveness he could not fully judge.
“It’s never good when somebody from outside a school decides to fill in a vacancy in a school,” Conti said. “ It’s scary that some teacher could be put in your school that you have no choice about.”
Other principals were more harsh. One Bronx principal said multiple experiences working with ATR teachers sent to the school for monthly rotations in the past left the impression that those in the reserve are “not qualified, with very few exceptions.” Other principals agreed, suggesting that if the teachers were high-quality candidates, they probably would have found positions on their own.
The principals and Chalkbeat forget to mention that with "Fair Student Funding" ATRs who are senior teachers will cost a school significantly more money when their average salary is factored in on a school's budget. Chalkbeat contradicts the comment from the principals on the low-quality of the ATRs when they point out later in the article that "the city offered an incentive system to encourage schools to hire from the ATR pool. During that school year, 372 teachers were hired from the ATR pool under a DOE policy that subsidized the cost of the teachers’ first-year salaries by 50 to 100 percent." That's why I was picked up permanently. I was a freebie for the school in 2016-17 and I'm half price for 2017-18. When ATRs are free or on sale, we suddenly aren't so bad.
Blogger Chaz has covered the reasons why ATRs are not given permanent positions fairly extensively. He cites the high cost of senior ATRs if hired on school budgets, ATR seniority over junior teachers who might have to be excessed if an ATR is hired and the school later has budget cuts, institutional memory as ATRs who are hired permanently might ask questions if a principal says jump, and finally how ATRs have been demonized by the DOE.
When someone sees over and over again the press reporting that he/she is not of high quality, it can have a real effect on the person. I was a rotating ATR for only three months and it impacted on my confidence as a teacher for sure. I have been to several meetings of ATRs done by various groups where polls are taken. Each time, majorities of ATR's vote that they would like to stay in rotation and don't want regular teaching positions. The first time I saw this result I was kind of stunned. After all, what kind of teacher wouldn't want a regular class to teach? Also, who wants to be observed by roving supervisors sometimes nicknamed "field assassins"? These supervisors observe ATRs in classes where the teachers might not even know the kids in front of them and perhaps are not even be skilled at an out-of license subject they happen to be teaching. In the opinion of many ATRs, this is still better than the Danielson observations regular teachers are subjected to.
Looking back with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight after having been appointed to a regular teaching position in 2017, I can say the ATRs who have given up trying to seek a permanent position and/or are blacklisted by the DOE so they can't find a regular job have mostly developed superior coping skills and are to be admired and not criticized.
By making minor tweaks in the system so more ATRs will be placed in schools, Randy Asher is really not making any radical changes. The principals still get to rate the ATRs who are placed and as previously stated only those rated Effective or Highly Effective exclusively on the observation portion of their annual rating will stay permanently. Ultimately, principals remain in control and only the ATRs forced placed will suffer as principals will now have an incentive to rate these teachers Developing or Ineffective on observations which unfortunately will happen many times to ATRs who are sent to some of the system's worst principals.
Chalkbeat did not quote one ATR, not even one, for their article. We don't matter to them and that is why I stay away from their biased reporting most of the time. However, it is worth noting that more principals seem to be unhappy since Farina re-empowered superintendents in 2015. A piece from Chalkbeat in June describes the complaints of principals going from a system where they controlled everything in their schools to one where the superintendent has some authority over them.
One principal described the changes:
Ari Hoogenboom, principal of Abraham Lincoln High School, spelled out the pros and cons. Farina's system is likely to minimize wayward principals from breaking the rules or getting in over their heads. But in the long run, it might also discourage stronger principals from taking risks that could help students.
"With Bloomberg, it was like running a hamburger joint, but it was my own hamburger joint," Hoogenboom said. "And with de Blasio I'm running a McDonald's and I have to serve the Big Mac."
Whether the administrative nonsense comes down on teachers and other UFT staff from the principal or the superintendent does not matter much. We are still the ones who are powerless along with parents and students in too many schools. The only solution for the future is to re-empower the actual school communities. That is where the check on principal power needs to come from. In contract negotiations, the UFT should seek to take back all of the givebacks from 2005.