Daniel Weisberg is a former New York City Department of Education lawyer under Chancellor Joel Klein. Weisberg has written yet another opinion piece for an anti-teacher website in which he repeats many half-truths and outright false statements about Absent Teacher Reserves, teachers in New York City who have no permanent teaching position through no fault of their own. This blog will not link to Weisberg's garbage but since ATR friends for some reason are sending it out all over the place, the ICEBLOG will provide a refutiation of the former Klein assistant's biased piece.
Weisberg claims that Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina "are resurrecting one of the most harmful and discredited ideas in education policy: forced hiring of teachers." He then gives little specific evidence to prove that so called "forced hiring" is bad except to cite a very dated anti-tenure article from 1999 on the difficulty of firing bad teachers.
If the problem is keeping criminals and/or pedophiles away from children, the process to remove a teacher from a classroom in New York City takes about the time it takes to make a phone call to the Office of Special Investigations or the Commissioner of Special Investigations who then remove the teacher from the classroom instantly. Having to subsequently prove the teacher really is a criminal is something that should be basic to our system of justice even in schools since there are many false allegations. The reality is that anyone accused of almost anything can be taken away from students in a flash.
I personally know one of the four long serving teachers who the NY Post claimed were kept out of the classroom indefinitely but stayed on payroll. This teacher taught at Jamaica High School with me. He was going through a nasty divorce many years ago and was accused of sexually assaulting a child. The teacher was totally vindicated as the person who made the accusation recanted but it wasn't good enough for Joel Klein so the teacher was kept out of the classroom indefinitely on suspicion of possibly having once been suspicious. This must be one of the "lemons" Weisberg is talking about. For the record nobody at Jamaica High School where we worked together ever accused this teacher of doing anything improper to any child. Many of the so called "lemons" or "trash" that Weisberg and others refers to are simply people who had personality clashes with administrators. "Lemons" and "trash" are subjective terms.
Weisberg then cites some statistics from 2014 saying that 25% of ATRs were brought up on disciplinary charges. In the New York City Department of Education for many teachers this means that the teacher had a problem with an administrator. The simplist way for an administrator to get rid of a teacher from a school is to file charges against him/her. If the teacher is not overly popular with the students, it is as easy as bringing a few kids into an office and asking some leading questions.
When I was chapter leader at Jamaica, I was once called to a new principal's office because an outside investigator was in the building and a teacher needed advice on what to do. The new principal covered my class and asked the kids some leading questions about me. I tend to be popular with students so he got nowhere. How do I know this? When I returned to class, the kids told me about how they defended me. Unfortunately, asking the leading questions is done repeatedly by some unscrupulous admistrators to try to dig for dirt even when there is not even suspicion of someone possibly being suspicious. Remember, there are no real consequences in NYC that I know of for principals falsely accusing teachers. Maybe they can be transferred from an assignment to another if they alienate an entire school community but they don't end up unemployed except under very extraordinary circumstances.
Weisberg then claims 60% of ATRs don't even bother looking for a regular job. He neglects to mention that the open market transfer system is closed for many, particularly senior teachers as Chaz documented when Weisberg wrote essentially the same anti-ATR piece back in 2014 and we showed at this blog when we did our analysis of the so called open market last week. The open market is a dead end for most senior teachers regardless of their records. Principals can hire two teachers on their budget for the price of one experienced teacher. "Come back when you're younger" was the ICEUFTblog conclusion.
Weisberg continues by saying that placing ATRs after October 15 for the rest of the year, as the new Department of Education policy intends to do, is terrible policy. He writes: "More to the point, subjecting thousands of kids to ineffective teachers for even a year is simply unacceptable." The argument is ridiculous.
Principals have between July and October to fill their vacancies with any certified teacher they want. They can go outside the system and hire those cheap newbies through October 15th. If they can't find a candidate in four months, the central DOE will send them someone and the DOE retains the unilateral discretion not to send anyone they think is not fit (a teacher who beat a disciplinary hearing). There are relatively few openings after October 15. Most are for leaves for illness or maternity and are temporary in nature. Would Weisberg rather see the classes go unfilled? That happens.
He then proposes the DC-Chicago solution where an ATR gets a time limit to find a new position if she/he is placed in excess because a school closes or a program is downsized and then they would be placed on unpaid leave if a principal doesn't hire them within a year (or a different time limit). This exposes his real aim which is to terminate senior teachers. This flies in the face of civil service law which put in place a seniority system in large part to stop a spoils system and arbitrarily firing people who have experience.
Weisberg is attempting to make an end run around the law to effectively eliminate tenure. Excessing would essentially mean firing if he has his way. We would all become at will employees since senior teachers are often passed on for jobs just because of the cost on a school budget. Tenure in DC or Chicago means next to nothing if a teacher is in a school that is slated for closure or downsizing. New York still has a more progressive civil service law that does not allow school officials to just clear out the senior, higher paid teachers by downsizing programs and then covertly blacklisting most of the excessed teachers which is the real agenda here. If someone doesn't think blacklisting exists, wake up. I was told by an official I was blacklisted. I got hired in spite of this mainly because the school will get a full subsidy for my salary for the first year and a half subsidy for the second year and I have sufficient time to retire already.
What about alternatives to patronage hiring?
Can managers succeed if they do not pick the employees that work for them? Obviously, the answer is yes. Look at the New York City Police Department where the Precinct Commanders are "stuck" with the officers that are sent to them. If someone is sent to them from the Police Academy or another precinct, they can't turn around and reject the new officers. Even without that hiring power, the commanders are still responsible for reducing crime in their precincts. Look at so many other government agencies and it is the same way. We can go outside of government on this issue too.
Let's examine sports. In most pro sports franchises, the general manager gets the players and then the manager in baseball or the coach in other sports has to work with the players he/she has been given. I don't see the Dan Weisbergs of the world screaming about how coaches need to hire all of their players.
Uncontrolled administrative power at the principal, superintendent or central Department of Education in New York City is the biggest problem here. At the principal's level, it has led to patronage hiring as well as massive grade inflation and grade fixing scandals. These scandals have been well documented by Sue Edelman. Sources tell us that what is public is the tip of the iceberg as many teachers are too scared to report what is occurring in their schools for fear of retaliation.
We have reported here that the place to investigate to find how the increase in high school graduation is rather meaningless is the CUNY on time graduation rates, particularly in the two year colleges, which are as low as 1.4%. NYC high school graduates feed these colleges. The answer is that we must bring back integrity to the high school diploma. In order to do that, NYC must reign in principals not only from above, but also from below by empowering teachers and parents again. Changing the hiring back to committees would be an important first step.
Good principals are not afraid to work in partnership with their school communities and would object to the Weisberg approach of firing the senior people in excess.