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New York City Must Stop Hiding Its Weakest Teachers

A couple of months ago, the mayor of New York City snuck out a press release about his failure to rid the city of some its poorest performing teachers. What his administration has done instead is allow some of these teachers, many of whom have been out of the classroom for years collecting full salaries, to seep back into schools and teach our city’s most vulnerable children. A devastating reality of this city’s broken public school system is the fact that our most vulnerable children too often are taught by the least effective teachers. With 75 percent of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students being children of color, you would think that Mayor Bill de Blasio would ensure high-performing teachers reach the halls of every school. What we have instead are children of color trapped in chronically failing schools at a disproportionately higher rate than wealthier white students and a mayor who is siding with special interests that fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. Countless studies have shown teacher quality to be the single most important in-classroom factor in a child’s academic progress. That’s why at StudentsFirstNY we focus much of our time and attention on fighting to ensure that every child in New York state is taught by an effective teacher. It’s also why we have requested that the New York City Department of Education reveal what it is doing with what’s known as the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR).

What’s the ATR and Why Should You Care?

The ATR pool is the name given to the more than 1,000 teachers who receive full pay despite not being in the classroom. While some in this pool of teachers may be effective educators who lost their jobs during a school restructure, the vast majority are ineffective teachers who lost their position in the classroom due to anything from scrolling the web for pornography to pushing students in cafeterias. What’s even more disturbing is that many of these teachers are being refused by principals who know they’re bad apples. When Mayor de Blasio took office, he pledged to shrink the Absent Teacher Reserve, but the pool of teachers is virtually unchanged, costing the city of New York more than $100 million annually. The mayor also vowed not to force any of these teachers into the classroom, but since he took charge, more than 500 of these ATR teachers have returned to the classroom. Even more dangerous, the mayor’s office has refused to inform parents at what schools these teachers have landed! While the city claims these teachers are effective enough to return to the classroom after no additional training and years out of the classroom, New York city public school parents deserve to know. That’s why we started asking the de Blasio administration back in November 2015 what they were doing to ensure the bad teachers in the ATR don’t end up back in the classroom, especially in low-income communities. Much to our dismay, our request has gone unanswered.

What About Gideon’s Son?

StudentsFirstNY works closely with parents whose children are trapped in chronically failing schools—the kind of schools where teachers from the ATR pool have traditionally been placed. One such school is Boys & Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where enrollment has dropped from more than 2,000 students five years ago to less than 400 this year. Just 53 percent of Boys & Girls students graduate in four years, and more than a quarter drop out. One of the parents we work with is Gideon Gabbidor, whose 19-year-old son is a Boys & Girls student, and thankfully, on track to graduate this June. Despite all the promises from Mayor de Blasio about a turnaround for Boys & Girls, there hasn’t been any improvement in his son’s classes. Parents like Gideon don’t have confidence in the school because they can clearly see the lack of quality teachers. He deserves to know that the system is doing everything it can to make sure his son is taught by an effective teacher—and not just another cast-off who couldn’t get placed anywhere else. Gideon Gabbidor has just a few months left for his son at Boys & Girls, but there are tens of thousands of other parents and students across this city who are trapped in classrooms with ineffective teachers. If Mayor de Blasio were serious about improving education for these students, he’d immediately eliminate the Absent Teacher Reserve and find new ways to get great teachers in front of these kids. At the very least, he should provide a clearer picture of who is really teaching our kids. Parents in communities like mine are demanding answers, and I encourage you to join. Please sign our petition at deservedetails.org and tell the mayor we deserve to know who is teaching our children.
Tenicka Boyd is the director of organizing for StudentsFirstNY. She joined StudentsFirstNY from the Obama administration, where she served at the U.S. Department of Education in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Tenicka is an outreach expert who has spent years as an organizer in community organizations, faith organizations and on several state, local and ...

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