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January 25, 2011
Departing from plan, Black slows down special ed changes
A delay in special education reforms is the first sign that plans laid out before Chancellor Cathie Black's arrival might not be carried out as intended. The Department of Education was supposed to expand changes to special education from 260 schools system-wide this fall. But that plan has been pushed back to 2012, Black told principals in an email earlier this week. The move was first reported by Insideschools, which reported that special education advocates said the city would not have been able to scale up the changes successfully on its original timeline. The slowdown is notable because it marks Black's first departure from the script set out for her by her predecessor, Joel Klein. Since being appointed chancellor, Black has largely indicated that she will stay Klein's course. In her previous "Principals Weekly" emails, she expressed commitments to many of Klein's priorities, last week inviting more schools to join the Innovation Zone he launched last year. The special education expansion plan was ambitious from the start. An internal review completed in July 2009 called for substantial reforms. But by February, when the city began explaining its plans to special education advocates, few details had been fleshed out. Changes to state special education requirements and unanswered questions about funding are contributing to the delay, Insideschools reported. Black's complete email to principals is below.
December 23, 2010
On his way out, Klein pushes for end to ATR pool, last-in first-out
The final installment of Joel Klein's weekly memo to principals In a nostalgic final missive to city principals this week, outgoing Chancellor Joel Klein suggested three things to do once he's gone. He urged lawmakers to end the last-in first-out process of teacher layoffs, pushed for an end to the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, and underlined his belief in the importance of closing struggling schools. Klein's statement that "we have to eliminate the ATR pool" ratchets up the city's position on the pool of teachers — city teachers who lose their positions, don't find new ones, but stay on the city payroll anyway. Previously, the city has asked the union, in contract negotiations, to add a limit to the amount of time a teacher can spend in the reserve pool. That would make the pool smaller, but it would not cause it to disappear altogether. Describing the costs of keeping those teachers on the city payroll as exceeding $100 million a year, Klein argues: We cannot afford it, and it's wrong to keep paying this money. It amounts to supporting more than a thousand teachers who either don't care to, or can't, find a job, even though our school system hires literally thousands of teachers each year. That's money that could be spent on teachers that we desperately want and need. Klein also describes teacher layoffs as a sure thing. "I wish it were otherwise, but the economics of our state and city make this virtually impossible to avoid," he writes. The Bloomberg administration has a history of being bullish on layoffs in order to push for the end of the state law regulating how teachers lose their jobs. Klein reiterates that case in his letter: If we have layoffs, it's unconscionable to use the last-hired, first-fired rule that currently governs. By definition, such a rule means that quality counts for zero. Our children cannot afford that kind of approach. They need the best teachers, not those who are longest serving. (If you had to have surgery, would you want the longest-serving surgeon or the best one?) This doesn't mean that many of our longest-serving teachers aren't among the best, but this is not an area for "group think." We need individual determinations of teacher effectiveness to decide who stays and who doesn't. Klein also quoted his favorite T.S. Eliot poem, "Little Gidding," excerpting four cryptic lines that seem to summarize his "odyssey" as something more complex than a straight line of a progress: We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time. Other curious lines from the poem: ... Either you had no purpose Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured And is altered in fulfilment. ... Klein has sent a memo to principals every week for years. Read the full letter here and below.
July 29, 2010
Number of teachers rated unsatisfactory rose again last year
More teachers than ever received unsatisfactory ratings last year, suggesting that the city's push to rid the school system of more struggling teachers is working. Principals gave unsatisfactory ratings to 1,813 teachers, 17 percent more than in 2009, according to data the city released today. They also denied tenure to 234 teachers this year, 80 percent more than last year. And principals nearly doubled the number of teachers given an extra year before their final tenure decision is made. In total, 11 percent of the 6,386 teachers up for tenure this year were denied or delayed, compared to 6.6 percent last year. It's an even more dramatic jump from 2006, when tenure was denied or delayed less than 1 percent of the time. By far, the leading cause principals cited for giving a U-rating was quality of instruction and student care. Attendance problems were the second-leading cause of low ratings, followed closely by the nebulous "personal and professional qualities." Still, the vast majority of teachers were rated satisfactory and received tenure after three years in the classroom.
June 25, 2010
Pushback to the idea that yanking principal improves a school
The principals union is fighting against a federal program that calls for improving struggling schools by firing their principals. As part of a three year federal grant program to "turn around" the city's lowest-performing schools, the city can choose from four intervention plans, all of which call for removal of the schools' principals. Even the least intrusive option — the transformation method — keeps the schools' staff in place but requires the principals to be replaced. Department of Education officials said on Thursday that they were lobbying the state to allow them to keep some principals in place. Schools that are showing signs of progress and others that have principals hired in the last three years, may be able to keep their principals, officials said.
September 23, 2009
City urged superintendents to favor Leadership Academy principals
The city Department of Education has often praised the principal-training program it helped incubate, the nonprofit Leadership Academy, despite veteran educators' grumblings. But it has never, to my knowledge, come out and flatly declared that it would rather hire principals trained at the academy's Aspiring Principal Program than principals trained elsewhere (like, for instance, a traditional university program.) That's what chief schools officer Eric Nadelstern wrote in the memo below, sent out to superintendents and school support organizations in June. "[I]f we are not actively seeking to place these Leadership Academy graduates, we are ignoring an important talent pool," Nadelstern wrote. "I expect to see the number of unplaced APPs drop rapidly over the next few weeks."
August 20, 2009
Principals are optimistic about ARIS, but kinks continue
Nearly two thirds of principals say the Department of Education's $81 million online data warehouse could help improve teaching and learning at their schools. The finding is among the results of a survey conducted by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum's office, which released a statement today emphasizing that more than a third of principals did not think the system was helping their schools. In its coverage of Gotbaum's report, the New York Times billed the system as being "supported by most principals," And the city has said that its internal survey results show that most principals see benefits to the system. ARIS's solid approval rating doesn't mean all of its kinks have been worked out. The Manhattan School for Children's parent coordinator sent the following e-mail to parents last week: ARIS and Classroom Assignments It has come to my attention that the classroom teacher assignments have been posted on ARIS and I have been trying to unravel the mystery as to how these assignments came to be posted. I have also discovered that there are many mistakes. The official letters from MSC will be sent at the end of August. I am also out of town and cannot access the ID numbers that many parents are now requesting. Please double check the letters that you received from your classroom teacher. Both numbers were given out at the same time. Again, you will be notified about your official class by mail. Please do not rely on the ARIS site for this information. The parent who forwarded me the e-mail said the incorrect information has been removed from the system but new information hasn't yet been uploaded. (The system opened to parents in May.)
July 1, 2009
As Board of Education convenes, Dept of Ed's beat goes on
As borough presidents prepared to gather at Gracie Mansion to convene a new-old Board of Education last night, city principals received a newsletter in which the biggest news had to do with kindergarten waiting lists. No mention whatsoever of mayoral control's expiration. Here's the weekly newsletter:
June 23, 2009
Principals attack teacher contract deal; "doesn't put children first"
Principals union president Ernest Logan. (Photo from ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/28995913@N07/3264526581/in/photostream/##GothamSchools Flickr##.) The city principals union is condemning the labor deal announced by City Hall and the teachers union yesterday. They're zeroing in on a plan to scrap two work days from teachers' load that were added in the last contract negotiation, to many teachers' frustration. The change moved the working school year for teachers to before Labor Day and added two extra days to students' year. The deal announced last night would have school begin on the same day for teachers and students, leaving no official preparation days for teachers. In a statement just released, principals union president Ernest Logan said the arrangement would leave schools unprepared for students. The "surprise move," he said, "certainly does not put children first." Logan's full statement:
June 1, 2009
‘Widget Effect’ report: ‘Meaningless’ teacher evaluations need improvement
A new report is urging school districts across the country to beef up their methods of evaluating teachers, which the report describes as so slipshod as to be "largely meaningless." The report, by a nonprofit group that has clashed with teachers unions in the past, describes the poor evaluations as "just one symptom of a larger, more fundamental crisis—the inability of our schools to assess instructional performance accurately or to act on this information in meaningful ways." The report is called "The Widget Effect" because accuses districts of treating all teachers alike, regardless of how much they help students learn. It goes on: This inability not only keeps schools from dismissing consistently poor performers, but also prevents them from recognizing excellence among top-performers or supporting growth among the broad plurality of hardworking teachers who operate in the middle of the performance spectrum. Instead, school districts default to treating all teachers as essentially the same, both in terms of effectiveness and need for development. The report, conducted by The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit founded by the lightning-rod D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, calls on districts to develop more robust teacher evaluation systems that reward successful teachers and easily identify less successful teachers. The report comes amid a growing push to improve teaching quality across the country. President Obama has said that teachers who are not helping students learn should be removed from classrooms, and even the national American Federation of Teachers union is working internally to build a new method of evaluating teacher quality. The report bases its findings on surveys of thousands of teachers and administrators across four states and 12 school districts, plus a scouring of the districts' evaluation records. New York City was not one of the districts studied.
May 19, 2009
Many principals to see a 5% cut tomorrow, even after stimulus
Principals will receive school budgets tomorrow that include a new 5 percent cut, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein announced today. The cuts are so deep that the department is temporarily abandoning its plan to finish adopting a new funding formula that it said would make school budgets more equitable. The cuts, totaling $405 million across the city schools, could threaten non-teacher staff positions, after school programs, and training for teachers. But roughly 60 percent of schools will not actually experience cuts of the maximum size, Klein told reporters at a briefing today. That's because slightly more than half of all principals chose not to allocate every dollar in their budgets for this year, instead "rolling over" a total of $95 million. The rainy day funds are being wiped out by the new cuts but are also softening the blow of next year's cuts for many schools. In addition, about 80 schools receiving the largest amounts of federal anti-poverty funds will actually see a slight increase in the size of their budgets, Klein said. The remaining 40 percent of schools will see their budgets drop the maximum 4.9 percent, he said. Today's cuts are on top of a total average 3 percent cut made to school budgets over the last year and a half. Because of the cuts, the DOE is suspending its plan to start charging schools the real salaries that teachers make, a change that had been the cornerstone of the department's Fair Student Funding formula.
May 6, 2009
No new hires, a cash-strapped DOE instructed principals today
Responding to shrinking budgets and rising costs, the Department of Education is putting in place what amounts to a systemwide teacher hiring freeze, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein informed principals today. Individual schools will still be able to use their budgets to add new teachers if they are able, but the DOE is planning to cut school budgets so far that many schools will have to shed teachers, DOE officials revealed. And any new hires, to replace teachers who leave, will have to come from teachers who are already in the system, according to new rules the department is implementing. Klein informed principals about the hiring restrictions, which the department says should allow it to avoid actually laying off teachers, this morning during a Webcast and just now in a memo, which is included at the end of this post. The department is planning to give principals more detailed information about their schools' budgets during the week of May 18. Speaking to reporters today, a top DOE official, Photeine Anagnostopoulos, said she could not predict how many schools would need to eliminate teachers but said that a "high percentage" might be able to cut their budgets sufficiently by reducing non-teaching staff and axing programs. She said "the goal" for the department is for all schools to make the same percentage cut to their budgets. That size of that cut has not yet been finalized, she said, adding that principals would ultimately have discretion about how to cut their own budgets. The new restrictions require principals to fill vacancies created by attrition by picking up current teachers who are either in a classroom elsewhere in the city or in the existing pool of excessed teachers, which already includes about 1,100 teachers.
April 29, 2009
Principals not actually getting budget details today after all
Principals and reporters who thought they were going to get a first look at Mayor Bloomberg’s school budget proposal this afternoon were just told that…
April 24, 2009
Principal departures are down in the last 3 years, but not gone
The number of principals who have resigned, retired, or been dismissed has fallen in the last three school years. Data from the Department of Education…
April 22, 2009
Most schools already meeting the mayor's call to service
Part of the million pennies raised by schools through Penny Harvest. Photo from ##http://insideschools.blogspot.com/search?q=%22penny+harvest%22##Insideschools##. City principals will have to submit plans in October explaining how they’ll meet the Mayor Bloomberg's new service requirement for schools, but it shouldn't be an onerous task for most of them. Most schools, particularly at the high school level, already engage in some service, according to Department of Education spokeswoman Kerri Lyon. At Manhattan Bridges High School in Midtown, for example, students have always been required to log 40 hours of service before they graduate, Principal Mirza Sanchez Medina told me yesterday. Other schools announced service initiatives this week that were planned before Bloomberg's announcement: Students from the Academy of Urban Planning and the Bushwick School for Social Justice planted 16 trees in between their campuses in honor of Earth Day, and kids at Harlem’s PS 57 pitched ideas for community-improvement grants to Scholastic’s Be Big Fund. For the many schools that already engage in service, the mayor's initiative should expand the number of volunteer options available to students, Lyon said. And schools that have never participated in service before can start slowly, such as by joining Penny Harvest, the popular program where kids donate pennies to charities of their choice, she said.
March 13, 2009
Teachers accuse Bronx principal of a "reign of terror"
The flier advertising today's rally. Teachers at the Fordham High School of the Arts plan to rally today in protest of their principal, who they say has conducted a "reign of terror" that is partly responsible for a 70% teacher turnover rate. Teachers from across the Bronx are invited to join the Fordham protest, which is being billed as a larger statement against what teachers call Chancellor Joel Klein's "support of abusive principals." I don't know any of the context here. It seems like a case where it's impossible, without a lot more reporting, to know which side to believe — but very clear that the school environment is not a peaceful and happy one. A Department of Education official, speaking on background today, said the protest is likely linked to an incident earlier this month where a teacher was removed from the school after an investigation tied her to a threatening letter written to the principal. A poster advertising the rally declares that teachers are protesting the "unfounded removal" of a teacher. The DOE source said the letter is being investigated by the police.
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