This past week, I waited over two hours at Mayor de Blasio’s town hall in Brownsville to ask an important question about my son’s school. For kids in our neighborhood, a quality education can mean the difference between life or death. So I would have waited all night to get a straight answer from the Mayor. But when I finally got to the microphone, I could barely get my question out before he dismissed me. I asked the Mayor to make a commitment that he wouldn’t send unwanted teachers into classrooms at my son’s school, but Mayor de Blasio made it clear that kids in our neighborhood aren’t his priority.
Instead of listening to our concerns, the Mayor defended his plan to put unwanted teachers back into classrooms. Right now, there are close to 800 of these unwanted teachers. They’re not assigned to full-time positions because no principal wants to hire them, but the Mayor is “solving” that problem by forcing principals to take them anyway.
The official name for these unwanted teachers is the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR). They have been removed from the classroom for a variety of reasons and are unable to find permanent assignments even though there are openings. So these teachers earn a full salary, but they don’t teach full-time. More than a third (37 percent) of the teachers in the ATR have been without a permanent teaching position for more than four years – which either means they can’t find a position, or they’re not even looking anymore. Almost a third (32 percent) of the ATRs were placed there because of legal or disciplinary reasons, and 12 percent have been rated ineffective. That last number may seem low, until you find out that less than 1 percent of NYC teachers get an ineffective rating. So teachers in the ATR pool are at least 12 times more likely than regular teachers to be rated ineffective.
Despite these numbers, Mayor de Blasio still plans to force ATR teachers back into schools. That scares me, and it scares a lot of parents in my neighborhood.
We’re scared about the ATR because we know these unwanted teachers aren’t going to end up at schools in Brooklyn Heights or on the Upper East Side. The unwanted teachers usually get placed in schools that have the most vacancies, and those are struggling schools in communities like Brownsville and East New York.
For those of us living in these neighborhoods, this is very personal. My son is a junior at Bushwick Leaders High School for Excellence. His school’s graduation rate is fine, but only 18 percent of the kids who graduate are actually college ready. So I keep worrying about the impact that ineffective teachers will have on his education. Will one or two bad classes be enough to knock him off course? He’s a good kid, but he won’t be ready for college without good teachers.
The Mayor claims that there are plenty of good teachers in the ATR, but if they’re as good as the Mayor claims, then why haven’t they found a full time position without being forced on schools that don’t want them? Keep in mind that principals could have hired teachers from the ATR, but time and time again they have passed them over.
To make matters worse, Chancellor Fariña said in a TV interview last week that parents won’t be told if an ATR teacher will be placed in their child’s school and that principals should be willing to “take a chance” on ATR teachers. I’m sure she’s not telling parents in wealthy neighborhoods to “take a chance” on unwanted teachers, and I guarantee you the Mayor never wanted to “take a chance” with his own kids’ education.
Schools in Brownsville and East New York have been struggling for far too long. We don’t want to take a chance on unwanted teachers. Mayor de Blasio, don’t force the ATR pool into our schools.
DeWayne Murreld is the father of a high school junior and a Senior Parent Organizer for StudentsFirstNY, a leading education reform organization.