labor pains

Parents and DOE reach tentative deal on parent-paid aides

Parent-paid teaching assistants may be able to keep their jobs for at least another year under a tentative agreement reached today by parents and city officials.

The proposed solution came from schools chancellor Joel Klein, who recommended that teaching assistants who are hired and paid for by parent associations be renamed “substitute school aides.” Though the change appears to be cosmetic, the new job title allows parents to bypass the citywide hiring freeze and retain their current employees at a similar salary to what they’ve paid for years.

According to Department of Education officials, calling parent-paid support staff “substitute school aides,”  would allow them to work under D.C. 37 union rules, rather than those of the teachers union (though they would not be D.C. 37 members). Under the D.C. 37 contract, substitute school aides are paid about $12 per hour and are not given benefits — conditions that mirror their current work situation. Parent associations can pay them throughout the year, rather than having to collect all the money before school starts, as some had worried. Were these employees to become members of the teachers union, they would have to be paid significantly more and receive benefits, which few parent associations say they can afford to offer.

Previously, these employees were vetted and hired by parent associations to serve as recess aides, clerical workers, and teaching assistants. They were not affiliated with any union. After the teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers, complained that city schools were employing non-UFT workers for UFT jobs, the DOE said it would crackdown on the practice.

One thing working in the PTA’s favor is that the job title, “substitute school aide,” is already being used in some schools, although DOE officials could not say how widely.

The tentative agreement, reached during a meeting today at Tweed Courthouse which Klein, UFT president Michael Mulgrew, elected officials and parents attended, is not a sure bet. D.C. 37 officials were not present at the meeting and have yet to agree to go along with the plan.

It may be a tough sell. Today, the DOE released the number of teachers and administrative staff who have been “excessed” this year, meaning that they have lost their jobs and are looking for work within the school system. According to the department’s numbers, 900 school support staff employees have been excessed, among them many substitute school aides. Currently, there are only 100 vacancies for these positions in the city. With hundreds of its own members already looking for jobs, it could be difficult for D.C. 37 to allow these employees to work under its job title, but not hold union membership.

“Everyone in the room felt very positive about the chances of having supplemental assistants or whatever specific title they will have, in the classroom this fall,” said City Councilman Daniel Garodnick. “But again we did not finalize it today,” he cautioned.

Ron Davis, a spokesman for the UFT said this wasn’t a long term solution. “We will be exploring ways to develop some apprenticeship or internship program so these teaching assistants can eventually become teachers,” he said. As for support staff who do clerical work and are not on the teaching track, “That’s something we’re going to have to work out,” he said.

“I think everybody’s happy with this short term solution,” said Jennifer Noban, president of the Parent-Teacher Association at Lillie Devereaux Blake School (P.S. 6), who attended the meeting today. Noban said her school had 17 parent-paid aides.

D.C. 37 officials could not be reached for comment this evening.

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.