human capital

Klein to principals: Hiring restrictions probably won't be lifted

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein warned of “unacceptable financial consequences” today if principals do not accelerate their hiring.

In an e-mail today, Klein encouraged principals to list and fill their open positions as soon as possible to help reduce the number of teachers without jobs. If a principal can’t pay for a teacher, the teacher goes into a pool of “excessed” teachers whose salaries are paid by the department. If the size of the pool swells, the department could end up shouldering thousands of teachers’ salaries — all while the teachers aren’t officially on a school’s staff.

Klein emphasized that principals should plan to fill their vacancies with teachers who already work in the system, especially the more than 2,300 who currently lack a permanent position. “You should be aware that excessing conditions make it unlikely that we will lift hiring restrictions across the board,” he wrote. Restrictions have been lifted in a handful of specific license areas, most recently in special education, where the hiring freeze was lifted yesterday.

Some have speculated that principals might try to evade the hiring restrictions by not listing their open positions publicly before the “open market” period of teacher hiring ends next week.

“That’s maybe what some of them were trying to do and that’s why we had Joel send out the e-mail today,” said Photo Anagnastopoulos, the department’s chief operating officer.

There are currently about 2,400 teaching positions open in the city schools and about 2,340 teachers who don’t have positions, according to data released by the Department of Education today.

Nearly 2,000 teaching positions were cut at the end of the school year, the “overwhelming majority” because of budget cuts that totaled as much as 8 percent of schools’ budgets over the course of the last school year, department officials said today. The numbers released today marked the first time since principals submitted their budgets June 18 that the department disclosed how many positions had been cut.

Since the end of June, fewer than 400 of the teachers whose positions were cut at the end of the school year have been hired by other schools, according to the department.

The city’s excess pool currently has 1,570 teachers whose jobs were cut this year and 770 teachers whose jobs were eliminated in the past. The latter number is down from about 1,100 teachers in the pool at the end of April. About 300 of those teachers were offered permanent positions at schools since then.

Department officials say they are “pretty confident” that the number of teachers without positions will settle back to about 1,100 by shortly after the school year begins. “Right now it’s pretty much where we thought it would be,” Anagnastopoulos said today.

In addition to the 2,340 teachers currently without positions, there are also 300 school psychologists and social workers who do not have jobs at schools but whose salaries are being paid by the department.

Teachers are protected from layoffs, even if they do not land a position in a school. No such protection exists for the 900 excessed school aides, paraprofessionals, and other people who do not belong to the city teachers union. There are only about 100 openings for those kind of positions. 

Here’s Klein’s complete letter to principals:

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to give you an update on the hiring restrictions and how they impact our overall budget situation for the upcoming school year.

When we implemented the hiring restrictions in May, we did so to ensure that the size and cost of the excessed staff pool did not grow to the point where even more cuts would be required. I am aware that these restrictions limit your choices, but this policy is the only way to preserve your ability to select your own staff, a hard fought change in school hiring that we sought and achieved based on your feedback.

We continue to monitor the excess situation on a daily basis. A number of you have already selected internal candidates, including excessed staff, to fill your vacancies. But even with these hires, we still have many teachers in excess. As a result, we need to work together before the start of the school year to avoid any year-to-year increase in the number of teachers in excess and avoid unacceptable financial consequences. I am sure some of you are waiting to either declare or fill vacancies with the hope that hiring restrictions will be lifted soon. While I understand your desire to staff your schools with the candidates you feel will be the best fit, you should be aware that excessing conditions make it unlikely that we will lift hiring restrictions across the board in any other subject areas. To date, we lifted the hiring restrictions for almost all districts in special education and for all schools in other shortage areas, such as bilingual special education, speech, and most sciences.  Prospectively, there may be some targeted lifting of restrictions – in specific districts and subjects – but I anticipate even those targeted exceptions will be very limited. As we continue to monitor the situation, we may even need to re-impose some hiring restrictions in areas where we have lifted them.

Given these circumstances, you should not hold back on creating and filling vacancies. The best internal candidates – both teachers in excess and other teachers seeking transfers – are available now and the widest possible pool exists during the Open Market Transfer period, which by contract closes on August 7. It is crucial that you are staffed appropriately for the opening of school and therefore should create and fill vacancies as quickly as possible from the current pool of available internal candidates. Your HR Partner and the Office of Teacher Recruitment & Quality can assist you in identifying internal candidates. Many of the teachers in excess are relatively new teachers who you and your colleagues hired one, two or three years ago; many others are also dedicated teachers who could be a good fit for your school. Some excessed teachers can be hired with a subsidy, whereby central will bear a significant part of the cost even after you hire them.

I am aware that some schools will have staffing needs for short and long term absences. Please remember that you cannot use per diems and F-status staff to cover vacancies; this is something we will be monitoring. Per our agreement with the UFT, if you need to fill a vacancy caused by a leave or a sabbatical, you can hire excessed staff on a provisional basis. A provisional hire means that you are hiring the individual for only this coming year. At the end of the school year, that teacher will return to the excess pool unless you both agree he or she should remain on your staff. Questions about this process, subsidies or other matters pertaining to excesses should be directed to your HR liaison in the ISC or CFN.

Only by working together can we successfully navigate this challenging situation. I realize that you have already had to make difficult and painful decisions as a result of current budget conditions. In the case of staffing, however, critical steps remain. To the extent that vacancies are not scheduled or that the process of filling them is being delayed, the actions of individual schools have the potential to negatively impact all of our schools. I am deeply grateful for all that you are already doing to make the best choices for your school under difficult circumstances, but I ask that you please move expeditiously to schedule and fill your vacancies.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

the aftermath

What educators, parents, and students are grappling with in the wake of America’s latest school shooting

Kristi Gilroy (right) hugs a young woman at a police check point near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were killed by a gunman in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

It’s hard to know where to start on days like this.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead on Wednesday has elicited both terror and anger — and raised debates that are far from settled about how to keep American students safe.

Here are a few storylines we noticed as the country again grapples with a tragic school shooting:

1. You’re not wrong to think it: There have been a lot of mass shootings, and many recent ones have been especially deadly.

Data on school shootings specifically, though, is notoriously murky. As the Atlantic recently noted, varying definitions can contribute to either “sensationalizing or oversimplifying a modern trend of mass violence in America that is seemingly becoming more entrenched.”

But by NBC News’ count, 20 people have been killed and more than 30 have been injured in school shootings this year. That’s a lot — and more news organizations are now trying to keep a careful tally.

2. The consequences of traumatic events like the shooting at Stoneman Douglas are likely to be felt for some time.

A number of studies have found that violent and traumatic events in and outside of school do real damage to student learning, as we’ve reported — particularly among students who are already struggling. Here are some resources for teachers who need to talk to their students about trauma.

3. The tragedy is already renewing debates over whether or how to arm teachers.

Education Week gathered some of those calls from politicians Thursday. “Gun-safety advocates say that teachers can’t safely and quickly move from the mindset of teaching to being asked to fire a gun at an active shooter,” the story also notes.

This doesn’t even get at the debate about whether anyone should have access to the kind of gun the shooter used. Students from the district, for their part, told Broward schools chief Robert Runcie Thursday “that the time is due for a conversation on sensible gun control,” the Miami Herald reported.

Whether other technology and infrastructure can help keep students safe is a topic of ongoing discussion in communities across the country. Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to help schools buy communications systems that would allow them to talk directly to police and other emergency responders. Officials from districts that already use this equipment described them as a way to increase safety without “turning our schools into prisons,” even as they also assured lawmakers that the radios were just as useful for serious playground injuries and broken-down buses as for the much rarer active shooter situations.

In Tennessee, one school district near Nashville announced plans to close schools next Monday to review all safety plans with school staff and local law enforcement.

4. In some places, the shooting is unlikely to change the school safety debate at all.

In New York City, for example, conversations about school safety in recent years have revolved around discipline policies and metal detectors (though police have seized an increasing number of weapons from city schools). There’s little appetite there to arm teachers.

5. But all across America, the shooting and others like it have added a frightening tone to what it means to teach and learn in schools today.

“I know you are waking up this morning to a nightmare,” a former educator wrote in a “love letters to teachers” on Teaching Tolerance. “I know you are frustrated, tired and weary of the news. I know you are wearing your coat of bravery today.”

“I’m so, so angry and I’m having a hard time today looking at my students and not thinking about what happens when it’s my school’s turn,” wrote one commenter on the Badass Teachers Association Facebook group.

getting to graduation

New York City graduation rate hits record high of 74.3 percent in 2017

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the 2017 graduation rate at South Bronx Preparatory school.

New York City’s graduation rate rose to 74.3 percent in 2017, a slight increase over the previous year and a new high for the city.

The 1.2 percentage point increase over the previous year continues an upward climb for the city, where the overall graduation rate has grown by nearly 28 points since 2005. The state graduation rate also hit a new high — 82.1 percent — just under the U.S. rate of 84.1 percent.

The city’s dropout rate fell to 7.8 percent, a small decline from the previous year and the lowest rate on record, according to the city.

“New York City is showing that when we invest in our students, they rise to the challenge and do better and better,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement Wednesday.

More graduates were also deemed ready for college-level work. Last year, 64 percent of graduates earned test scores that met the City University of New York’s “college-ready” benchmark — up more than 13 percentage points from the previous year. 

However, the gains came after CUNY eased its readiness requirements; without that change, city officials said the increase would be significantly smaller. But even with the less rigorous requirements, more than a third of city students who earned high-school diplomas would be required to take remedial classes at CUNY.

Phil Weinberg, the education department’s deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, noted that CUNY’s college-readiness requirements are more demanding than New York’s graduation standards — which are among the toughest in the country.

We will work toward making sure none of our students need remediation when they get to college,” he told reporters. “But that’s a long game for us and we continue to move in that direction.”

The rising graduation rates follow a series of changes the state has made in recent years to help more students earn diplomas.

The graduation-requirement changes include allowing students with disabilities to earn a diploma by passing fewer exit exams and letting more students appeal a failed score. In addition, students can now substitute a work-readiness credential for one of the five Regents exams they must pass in order to graduate — adding to a number of other alternative tests the state has made available in the past few years.

About 9,900 students used one of those alternative-test or credential options in 2017, while 315 students with disabilities took advantage of the new option for them, according to state officials. They could not say how many students successfully appealed a low test score; but in 2016, about 1,300 New York City students did so.

The news was mixed for schools in de Blasio’s high-profile “Renewal” improvement program for low-performing schools. Among the 28 high schools that have received new social services and academic support through the program, the graduation rate increased to nearly 66 percent — almost a 6 percentage point bump over 2016. Their dropout rate also fell by about 2 points, to 16.4 percent, though that remains more than twice as high as the citywide rate.

However, more than half of the high schools in that $568 million program — 19 out of 28 — missed the graduation goals the city set for them, according to a New York Times analysis based on preliminary figures.

Graduation rates for students who are still learning English ticked up slightly to 32.5 percent, following a sharp decline the previous year that the state education commissioner called “disturbing.” City officials argue that students who improved enough to shed the designation of “English language learner” in the years before they graduated should also be counted; among that larger group, the graduation rate was 53 percent in 2017.

Meanwhile, the graduation-rate gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers narrowed a smidgen, but it remains wide. Last year, the graduation rate was about 83 percent for white students, 70 percent for black students, and 68 percent for Hispanic students. That represented a closing of the gap between white and black students by 0.4 percentage points, and 0.1 points between whites and Hispanic.

Asian students had the highest rate — 87.5 percent — a nearly 2 point increase from the previous year that widened their lead over other racial groups.

Christina Veiga contributed reporting.