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New York City to Begin Putting 'Absent Reserve' Teachers Back in Classrooms. But Who Are They?

Hundreds of New York City teachers who'd lost their full-time positions but stayed on the payroll will be headed back to classrooms within the next few weeks. 

About a third of those teachers, it turns out, have faced legal or disciplinary charges. 

The city's education department announced this summer that schools that hadn't filled all their teaching positions by Oct. 15 would be assigned educators from the "absent teacher reserve" pool. According to a spokesman at the New York City Department of Education, the "matches" between teachers and schools are being made now, and those teachers will go into schools sometime in early November. The district has said it expects to fill 300 or 400 vacancies this way.

The move has caused quite a bit of upheaval, with critics accusing the district of instituting "forced placement" of teachers, which the chancellor had vowed to avoid, and putting unfit people in front of students. The district says it's not forced placement because the teachers are filling vacancies, not bumping other teachers out of positions. The ATR costs about $150 million a year.

Teachers can end up in the ATR because their school closed or their position was eliminated. Some ATR teachers have been disciplined for misconduct or incompetence, and are eligible to return to the classroom but have not yet been rehired. They continue to receive full salary and benefits, and are rotated from school to school on a monthly basis.

At the end of the 2016-17 school year, there were 822 teachers in the absent teacher reserve. That was down from more than 1,100 in the pool three years prior.

But who exactly are these teachers? After being hammered with this question, the city's education department released some data about last year's ATR pool. It showed:

  • About a third of the teachers entered the pool after facing legal or disciplinary charges.
  • Thirty-eight percent of the teachers came in after their schools were closed or phased out. Thirty percent entered the pool after budget cuts or enrollment losses at their schools.
  • The average teacher in the absent reserve had been teaching in the district for 18 years and earned about $94,000 a year.
  • About 12 percent of teachers in the pool received a rating of ineffective or unsatisfactory—the two lowest evaluation ratings. (The New York Times reports that only about 1 percent of teachers across the city had received scores that low. And as we've written, nearly all teachers across the country are deemed effective on their evaluations.)
  • One in 4 of the teachers in the pool had been there for at least five years. Half had been there for two years. 

In a recent interview with NY1, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña urged principals to "take a chance" on teachers who are in the ATR pool, and "if there is a problem, you call us."

Teachers in the pool say they're unfairly stigmatized, including those with high evaluation ratings who've been excessed because of declining enrollment in their programs or schools. 

As Chalkbeat has reported, some New York City principals have said they'll go out of their way to avoid getting an ATR placement—including by hiding vacant jobs from the city's hiring system. 


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