Once again, the de Blasio Administration is trying to be on every side of a critical issue, but the rhetoric doesn’t match reality. Last month, Mayor de Blasio was asked about a plan to eliminate the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) and he said “it’s something I would approve.” At a City Council Education Committee budget hearing earlier today, Chancellor Carmen Farina came out forcefully against forced placement. Unfortunately, she refused to answer the inevitable follow question of what will actually happen to teachers currently in the ATR pool.
“You can’t take a stand on forced placement without addressing the ATR pool. If Chancellor Farina is genuinely against forced placement, then she should come out and promise not to force the 1,200 poorly-performing teachers back into classrooms,” said Jenny Sedlis, SFNY Executive Director. “We call on the Chancellor to make a simple pledge: no school will be forced to hire a teacher from the ATR pool against the wishes of its principal. If she’s not willing to make that pledge today, then this is all just empty rhetoric.”
Rhetoric: Chancellor Farina claims “There will be no forced placement of teachers” but refuses to clarify what will happen to those currently in the ATR pool.
Reality: Unless Mayor de Blasio is planning to set a limit on the amount of time these underperforming teachers can remain in the ATR, the only possible outcomes are either 1) the City will spend $1.4 billion over the next ten years on teachers who are not teaching or 2) the City force places these teachers back in the classroom against principals’ wishes.
Almost 60% of ATR teachers have been in the pool for over two years, including 164 who have been in the ATR for five or more years. 41 teachers have been in the ATR since it was created in 2006.
13% of ATR teachers are in “esoteric” license areas, e.g. jewelry making, where there are no positions available.
Fewer than 30% of excessed teachers from closing schools in 2011-2012 were still in the ATR four months after being excessed and over 60% found new jobs.
Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR): The ATR pool is the city’s designation for teachers who have been unable or unwilling to secure full-time teaching positions after being displaced from other schools – often despite the availability of many job openings. These teachers continue to receive full salary and benefits even though they have failed to make the cut at successful schools. Today, there are more than 1,000 of them, costing New Yorkers $144 million a year. A significant portion of teachers in the ATR pool face disciplinary review, including accusations of sexual misconduct. The ATR exists because the UFT has fought to protect weak teachers from quality-based layoffs.
Forced Placement: Before the ATR pool was created, underperforming teachers were simply passed from one school to another. In those days, any teachers whose jobs were eliminated could be forced into another school, regardless of whether they wanted to work there or whether the principal wanted to hire them. It created a dysfunctional culture where principals often hid open positions and strategically cut existing ones in order to get rid of low-performing teachers—who bounced around the system for their entire careers.
Mutual Consent: The City and the UFT agreed to leave forced hiring behind in a landmark 2005 contract. That agreement set up a new process: teachers could apply for open positions as they see fit, and principals could have the final say in selecting the best candidates for their schools. This commonsense approach to hiring is called mutual consent.
Why Forced Placement is Bad: Everyone loses if ATR teachers are forced into schools. Teachers won’t have a say in where they work. Principals would be denied the ability to hire their own staff. Most importantly, students—particularly those in lower-income neighborhoods where there are higher numbers of teacher vacancies—would shoulder the burden of an influx of ineffective teachers.
Formed in April 2012, StudentsFirstNY with more than 150,000 members, is New York State’s leading voice for students who depend on public education for the skills they need to succeed, but who are too often failed by a system that puts special interests, rather than the interests of children, first.