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ATRs Continued: The UFT's Policy Recommendations

At the end of last week, the UFT responded to the New Teacher Project report on ATRs in NYC. (If you missed the backstory, see Why You Should Read the Fine Print in the New Teacher Project Report, Why Buy the Teacher When You Can Have the Teaching for Free?, Tim Daly on the New Teacher Project report, and Joel Klein Blames Teachers for $4 Gas, Subprime Crisis).

Though the NYT article was pretty vague, the UFT actually made six policy recommendations:

1. The DOE should take a more pro-active role in placing ATRs, as the contract requires, by sending ATRs for the first interviews for open positions, before other candidates—new hires or transfers—are considered. Successfully placing more ATRs would avoid the unnecessary costs of hiring and mentoring more new teachers and maintaining a large ATR pool when the talent already exists in the system to staff vacancies.

2. Make teacher hiring selections financially neutral. The FSF budget replaced a longstanding system in which schools were fully funded for their teachers. Schools considered only an educator’s qualifications and “fit” for a position at the school, with no incentive to hire the cheapest candidate. Such a neutral system is fairer all around.

3. As an incentive, DOE could, for a specified period of time, cover the cost of ATRs who are permanently hired in a school.

4. Implement the contract provision that permits the union and DOE to negotiate a buyout to any remaining excessed teachers. Any additional cost would be offset by savings for the school administration.

5. Let the experience and expertise of ATRs be known to principals rather than maligning them, thus encouraging their hiring.

6. Offer a coaching and skills training program to ATRs who wish to enhance their marketability.

These recommendations sound pretty reasonable to me, and I see no retreat on mutual consent here. I can't say enough times that creating an incentive to hire the cheapest candidates was one of the poorest policy choices the NYC DOE has made. For similar reasons (the problem of creating different price incentives across candidates), I'm not crazy about #3 - but the real action above is in reforming "Fair Student Funding" and negotiating a buyout.

And to eduwonk's point about the dispute over how many ATRs are performing the duties of full-time classroom teachers: student schedules and report cards/transcripts are a good place to start looking. If you're responsible for evaluating students for more than a marking period, you are their regular teacher.

Make teacher hiring selections financially neutral.

That would be tremendously helpful. However, the UFT signed on to the third reorganization, which did precisely the opposite, despite a "hold harmless" clause that still enables principals to hire two newbies rather than pay a senior salary. Also, the UFT signed the contract that enabled the entire ATR situation.

Much of this was predictable, and it's very sad that UFT negotiators failed utterly to anticipate this, and the storm of PR that accompanied it.

Something you say in your last paragraph about "ATRs are performing the duties of full-time classroom teachers" needs clarification.

If you are an ATR subbing a different program every day, you fulfill some of the duties of the full-time teacher: taking attendance, executing a lesson (if it's left for you), controlling the class, helping them with their work, etc. Under no circumstances, in this peripatetic state they've put you in, should you give away your services (i.e., marking, preparing lessons, doing report cards) if you do not want to. The UFT made that point: ATR daily subs do not do these things.

If, on the other hand, you have accepted a full program, then I guess you've made the choice to take on those responsibilities.

If you are given a program for a few weeks and are doing the school a favor by creating lesson plans and evaluating the kids, yes, you are their teacher, I agree. But if you're in that classroom and you've chosen to withhold those services, you are STILL their teacher. The kids feel it, they learn to count on your being there.

I subbed for several weeks each in two different classrooms. I could have been (and was eventually) removed on a dime, but the kids considered me their teacher after a week or so. By the way, to protect them from growing attached to me, I kept reminding them that their "real" teacher might be coming back any day. There would have been no need to let them establish a deeper relationship with me when it was bound to be cut off at any time.

Yes, heaven forbid a teacher would actually do what is best for her students when the contract says she doesn't have to!

I actually agree with most of the UFT's recommendations here, except that if these other provisions are put in place, I don't think the DOE should have to buy out anyone's contract. They should be able to just lay off ATRs. It's unfortunate, but better than spending a bunch of money on buyouts of the most unwanted teachers' contracts.

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