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Why You Should Read the Fine Print in the New Teacher Project Report

From the coverage of the New Teacher Project's report, "Mutual Benefits: New York City’s Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring,” you'd think that the 235 teachers excessed in 2006 and remaining in the "absent teacher reserve" in December 2007 are the worst of NYC's worst teachers. Consider the National Center on Teacher Quality's retelling: "They are also a generally substandard bunch, with a higher rate of unsatisfactory ratings on their personnel records than their more successful peers. For those content to do very little in life, why give up the life of an excessed teacher?" Or, as the NTP's press release put it, "By September 2007, unselected excessed teachers from 2006 were six times as likely to have received a prior “Unsatisfactory” rating as other New York City teachers."

So what percentage of these teachers have never received an Unsatisfactory rating? 81 percent. What percentage of these teachers have received an Unsatisfactory rating more than one time in their careers? Only 6 percent - about 14 teachers. I am not denying that these rates are higher than the NYC teacher population as a whole. They are. But the raw numbers provide much needed context, and we shouldn't have to dig deep in the report to find them.

The issue of age discrimination in teacher hiring also remains unresolved by this report, despite eduwonk's protest on this point. And there are good reasons to keep a close eye on age discrimination in NYC. With the advent of "Fair Student Funding," principals have strong incentives to hire teachers that cost less. And as the age of principals continues to decline, we might expect that young principals will prefer to supervise younger teachers.

To be sure, the NTP report provides evidence that experienced teachers are somewhat less engaged in the job seeking process than inexperienced teachers. Unfortunately, it doesn't provide enough evidence to convince me that previous teacher ratings and job seeking patterns can fully explain the pattern exhibited in the graph below. The blue bars show the experience levels of the pool of teachers excessed in 2006, while the red bars show the experience levels of teachers who remained unplaced in December 2007.

Because of seniority rules, 44% of teachers excessed in 2006 had 0-3 years experience, while 22% of teachers in this pool had 13+ years of experience. Of the 235 teachers who remained unplaced as of December 2007, only 25% of these teachers had 0-3 years of experience, while 42% had 13+ years of experience. (All numbers are taken from the NTP report, though it wisely never put these two sets of numbers in a figure together.)


My point is not that we should preserve the current staffing rule, or that we should turn back the clock - mutual consent is an important principle. The DOE and UFT need to strike a deal, but first we need to understand the nature of the problem. Framing these teachers as a uniform bunch of incompetent louts does little to advance this understanding.

Update: The New Teacher Project's Tim Daly comments below.

It all comes done to some simple questions with no easy answers:

Can and will those responsible for the governance of school systems separate the problem of excess teachers from the problem of incompetents?

Can and will school system managers get serious about using the due process procedures now required to remove incompetents, or will they try to move in NTP founder, now DC Public Schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee's direction of making school system staff employees at-will?

In the District of Columbia, where Rhee was able to turn central office staff into at-will employees without due process rights, staff reductions have been explained by the administration both as a means of removing incompetents and a way to eliminate redundancies. It seems likely that at least some employees were let go because they were not entirely loyal to the new regime.

Aside from the question of fundamental fairness, the problem for released employees is that they were not informed which camp they fell into. Potential employers are likely to assume the worst.

In the face of significant opposition from members, the head of the DC teachers union has agreed to give Rhee the power to control reassignment of teachers in the dozens of schools scheduled for closure. The criteria she will apply to make those decisions have not been specified, and so appear to be no less arbitrary than those applied to central office staff.

The problem of excess teachers is the interaction between managements' reasonable desire to control staff deployment and unions' understandable desire to protect senior members through collective bargaining agreements. It's complicated tangle, but arose from managements' decision in the 1970's to give unions more control over hours and working conditions, when the ability to offer higher wages was constrained by stagflation.

The responsibility for competence lies with individual teachers; the responsibility for large scale incompetence rests with school managements. Administrators - from principals to superintendents - have failed to put up the resources required to pursue staff termination on performance grounds. The process itself isn't incredibly complicated, but it does take time and effort to put together a record that will support termination. In this regard, school systems are no different from that any large organization; line managers are not incentivized to spend the time required to coach and counsel out poor employees - or punished for failing to do so, and so they don't.

Conflating redundancy and incompetence seems to be a management strategy to regain control over deployment lost in collective bargaining, and redress management's own failure to remove what may well be a large number of incompetent staff. It's consistent with the idea of using value-added data to assess teacher performance discussed in this blog. Management wants to simplify its management problem; it wants to make life easier for management. In short, school district management is human, which is to say prone to a self-centered view of problems and solutions.

I'd like to remove incompetent teachers quickly. I think management needs more power to deploy staff as it sees fit. I believe we need to incorporate
the value-added concept into teacher evaluation. But as I've written in edbizbuzz, I think the mad dash to towards the solutions proposed by management and on its behalf will create a new set of problems that will make it much harder to achieve any of these goals. I don't want more powerful management per se, I want better decisions, leading to better outcomes.

What's implicit in the ideas coming out of the Chancellors office in New York and DC is the philosophy of the man (and now woman) on the white horse. In desperate times we look to the singular leader, trust in their judgment and offer them absolute power. Maybe he or she is the philosopher king, but the same power goes to their successors. Eventually we get a whole new kind of corruption that gets in the way of teaching and learning. And because every person riding in on the white horse is flawed, we get that corruption from the start.

Regarding your post on our Mutual Benefits paper, we certainly agree that everyone should be on the lookout for evidence of age discrimination. We thought about that quite a bit in writing the report. A few things to keep in mind:

1) In 2006, when the teachers profiled in our report were excessed and looking for jobs, all teachers cost the same for schools (regardless of seniority), so principals had no price incentive to hire more junior teachers.

2) When considering the selection rates for teachers by seniority, it is important to address the issue of re-absorption. The hiring rate for very novice teachers is inflated by instances when a teacher is excessed (sometimes for a short time) and then taken back into their old position when a position opens up. It doesn't really involve principal discretion at all, and more novice teachers exited the excess pool through this mechanism than by getting a new job. Senior teachers tend to come from closing schools, making re-absorption highly unlikely.

The re-absorption issue does not account for all of the difference in hiring rate, but it plays a sizable role. For example, 38 percent of the most senior group of excessed teachers found a new position compared to 35 percent of the most novice. But the most novice teachers were more than twice as likely to be reabsorbed by their former schools as the most senior teachers (44 percent compared to 18 percent).

3) If age discrimination was at work for excessed teachers, we should see the same pattern for voluntary transfers. To principals, they are all one pool; excessed teachers are not flagged or identified as such. But in the voluntary transfer system, senior teachers are doing very well, which the UFT's analysis has pointed out.


The New Teacher Project

I think we have more than the evidence we need to conclude that the Department of Education has structured hiring to be discriminatory.

The "open market" may have had some features of "mutual consent," but between a principal with a several-million budget, staff of dozens or hundreds, and the ability to slosh some cash around, and a teacher-applicant with an electronic resume, the inequality places a huge question mark over the idea of anything being genuinely mutual.

But now, "Fair Student Funding" destroys the last vestige.

The DoE will pay the salaries of all teachers in the system. That doesn't change. Principals do not pay salaries. They allocate internal funding.

So the DoE saves no money through FSF. But by giving principals control over local allocation, the Dept encourages them to pass over senior teachers.

In stronger schools, in schools in middle class and upper middle class neighborhoods, principals are somewhat constrained by needing to deliver to parents and kids. But in most of the City, esp in "that" half of Brooklyn and most of the Bronx, in the Blackest and most Puerto Rican and Dominican neighborhoods, there is no such constraint, and the discrimination has become rampant.

By pushing senior teachers (with higher salaries) into ATR status, by also throwing a handful of U'ed teachers into that status, the DoE seeks to conflate the two categories. They will, mark my words, seek to discontinue ATRs. That's where $ savings comes. And by churning the teaching corps they work towards weakening the union (and, they think, getting more concessions next time, or the time after that...)

As to the New Teacher Project's reference to the UFT analysis, I must state openly that I believe the analysis was self-serving, with the union not willing to admit having sent older members to the abatoir. As the evidence mounts, and it is mounting, we will be seeing franker analysis.

Which brings me back to the beginning. While we (I am a teacher, I support my union despite mistakes) must negotiate with the DoE, we have no real choice at this point but to assume that they are acting in bad faith at every turn, that they have hidden agendae, etc, etc.

The problem is an anti-teacher, anti-education Dept of Education. They actively promote hiring the newest teachers possible. They actively promote high teacher turnover. They actively promote instability in the schools. They are powerful and dangerous and must be countered.

Hi Tim,

Thanks for coming over to comment. Re reabsorption, I'm sure it accounts for some differences in the experience distribution between the two pools. Three questions/thoughts:

1) don't principals have some discretion in deciding where to make cuts and in what areas to repost a position? It strikes me that these decisions are not made without knowledge of who they would lose or keep.

2) Re "Senior teachers tend to come from closing schools, making re-absorption highly unlikely.": Is the decision to close schools independent of the experience distribution of the faculty?

3) Since you noted that there is less unnecessary excessing in 2007, you could use the 2007 data to demonstrate that reabsorption, not a preference for younger teachers, is driving the differences between these pools.

On your point about age discrimination, principals have access to personnel records, either through the formal application or information culled through interviews, no? We might separate potential age/experience discrimination into two categories:

1) if it's price-driven, we should see a decline in voluntary transfers for experienced teachers in 2007. Is this the case?

2) if it is stigma driven (in which the mark of a closing school affects experienced teachers differently than inexperienced ones), we would expect that all else equal, inexperienced teachers from closing schools have been hired at higher rates than experienced teachers.

Perhaps you have a second report forthcoming, but more analysis of the 2007 data could clear up a lot of these issues.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Recent Comments

  • eduwonkette: Hi Tim, Thanks for coming over to comment. Re reabsorption, read more
  • Jonathan: I think we have more than the evidence we need read more
  • Timothy Daly: Regarding your post on our Mutual Benefits paper, we certainly read more
  • Marc Dean Millot: It all comes done to some simple questions with no read more




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