The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

The Sad State of New York’s Public Schools

on August 23, 2017

Today’s post is a summary and critique of the educational mess in New York City, described in The New York Times by Kate Taylor. Read it and weep.

When I read the first few paragraphs of the NY Times article about the hundreds of New York City teachers who are being kept in an “Absent Teacher Reserve”, which means they are not working but still receiving salaries, I could not accept that practice as fair or practical. After all, some of those teachers have been in that classification for as long as five years although they were quite ready and willing to teach. Why weren’t those who were incompetent or had behaved badly fired? Why weren’t the teachers whose schools had been closed been offered jobs in other schools?

The major portion of the article attempts to explain the Reserve situation as reasonable and unavoidable, but I can’t accept its reasoning. Rather than describe the whole situation in detail, as the article does, I will try to summarize it as clearly as I can and then give my own opinion of what should be done.

Close to 35 percent of the Reserve teachers have been accused of criminal actions or inappropriate behavior in their classrooms, and another 12 percent are there because they received the lowest possible effectiveness ratings from their principals.  But as far as I could tell, the school district has made no attempts to file criminal charges against anyone, fire incompetents, or re-train struggling teachers.

Also in Reserve were a few teachers that some principals had refused to place in their schools, even though the district had hired them and they had worked in other schools where they had not been judged as  incompetent.

The practice of putting some teachers in Reserve has existed in New York City for a long time. But that group grew dramatically in 2005—when a deal was made between Mayor Bloomberg’s administration and the  N.Y. teachers’ union.  Bloomberg and his supporters wanted to close several schools that they deemed to be “failing schools”, while the union strongly fought against that action because they felt that many of the teachers who would lose their jobs were competent and hard-working. Finally, the conflict was resolved by placing some of the teachers in question in other schools, while  holding the rest in Reserve with full salaries. The only ways a teacher could get out of Reserve were to be offered a place in another school or to accept a “buyout” offer from the district.

After a while, the school district came up with a plan to bribe  principals to take teachers in Reserve by offering schools extra funding to pay their salaries. Unfortunately, very few principals took the offer.  After that plan failed, the district decided to place teachers in schools without principal approval.  That, too,  failed.

Over several years all solutions to the Reserve problem proved to be unsuccessful. On the first day of school in 2013 there were 1,957 teachers in Reserve, but the number did go down to 1,494 in 2016. The biggest obstacle seemed to be the unwillingness of principals’ to accept teachers they considered unqualified for the jobs that were open.

At present, things are not in good shape. There are a number of high poverty schools where test scores are still low; principals are being blamed and threatened, and teachers are unhappy.

To be honest, I don’t think I could clean up this mess in if I were given all the power in the world to do so. The bad decisions in New York have gone too far, and there are too many people to blame. I see the core problem as a huge and varied school district compelled to operate with a one-size-fits-all set of rules and expectations, and nobody very happy with the results. In my opinion the only possible solution is more independence for each school in determining its structure, teaching practices, and types of teachers; and increased funding for schools in high poverty areas.

One response to “The Sad State of New York’s Public Schools

  1. Congratulations for spreading the word about the reality of schools. Most of us Brazilians would not know about it.


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