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parent-teacher conferencePhoto by Sean Dreilinger/Flickr CC.

Elementary and high school parent-teacher conferences are taking place this week. District 75 conferences are coming up next week.

Parents of younger students may find the system easier to navigate with just one teacher (and classroom) to visit, and enough time to actually look at their child's work and talk at some length to the teacher.

By high school it can be a different story. Although some schools actually invite you to sit in on classes during Open School Week, at most large high schools the conferences are limited to a scant three minutes (egg timer and all). Parents may feel they need to put on track shoes to navigate the stairways, get from one classroom to another, and actually sit down for very short "conferences."  In High School Hustle, Liz Willen thinks there must be a better way.

We'd like to know what you think. How did your parent-teacher conference go? Take our poll (on the right column) and let us know.

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Jon Stewart this week blasted conservative media and politicians for protecting Wall Street while calling teachers “greedy.” Last night Stewart’s guest was education historian and NYU Professor  Diane Ravitch, discussing her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. I watched the show with Diane herself in a room full of education activists who shared the views that have made Ravitch a major voice in education in this country.

Stewart’s mother was a teacher, and the personal offense he takes from the recent fad of teacher bashing comes across. "So what reforms do we need to change the conversation?" Stewart asked. Ravitch said that teachers all over country are demoralized, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, as well as corporate philanthropists Eli Broad and Bill Gates, are on the wrong track.  Rather than focusing on which teachers to punish or lay off, we should be looking at making sure children have adequate health care and pre-K education. Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Diane Ravitch and see what you think.

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"Struggling Schools, Hard Times: Teachers, communities and school improvement in a time of fiscal uncertainty,"  a conversation with Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers will be presented by the Center for New York City Affairs on Wednesday from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Theresa Lang Community & Student Center, Arnhold Hall, 55 West 13th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), 2nd Floor at the New School.

The conversation will center on turning around struggling public schools and boosting community collaboration. How will educators, parents and the city respond to the state fiscal crisis? And what is the future of school accountability in New York City?

WITH:
Juan Gonzalez, New York Daily News
Clara Hemphill, Insideschools.org
and
Errol Louis, NY 1 News

Admission is free but you must reserve a seat. Please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 212-229-5418.

Can't attend the event? Please send us questions in comments below and we'll be certain to share them! And watch for our video on Insideschools during the event.

On Wednesday night, there will be another opportunity to hear Mulgrew. Community Board 1 in Lower Manhattan is hosting a Town Hall with him from 6-8 p.m. at The Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place.

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Wednesday, 08 December 2010 08:12

Cathie Black takes aim at teacher tenure

The new chancellor-designate, Cathie Black has emerged from seclusion to offer clues of what the priorities of her administration might be: taking aim at teacher tenure, and getting teachers off the city payroll who don't have regular classroom assignments.

After keeping quiet for a few weeks after Mayor Mike Bloomberg nominated her, Black gave a long interview with WABC news and met with the New York Daily News editorial board. She told WABC news: "I cannot imagine at age 25, 24 saying to someone you have a lifetime guarantee to this position, all you have to do is show up every day."  Of course, no teacher has a lifetime guarantee of employment--they can be laid off in times of budget cuts--but it is also true that it's difficult to fire unionized teachers who have tenure. It seems clear that modifying the teachers' contract with regard to tenure is one of her goals.

Black told the Daily News she wants to scrap the requirements that she make layoffs based on seniority. She also wants to be able to get rid of teachers in the so-called "absent teacher reserve" or ATR pool.  The ATR pool is made up of teachers who lost their jobs when their schools were closed.  These teachers are still on the city payroll, even though they haven't found new positions. They are mostly assigned to work as substitutes when regular teachers are sick.  "The idea that a large number of people are getting full employment and benefits for sitting around not doing a whole lot...we can't afford it," she told the Daily News.

And she'd like to make public teachers' ratings, a controversial issue that is being raised in court today.

Black's inexperience with the schools and lack of knowledge of the city's geography is apparent -- the Daily News said she thought she had visited a school in Bayside, Queens, when in fact she had been to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. There will undoubtedly be more such stumbles as she learns her way around the city schools. But she appears to be finding a voice for what she thinks is wrong with teacher tenure and other rules affecting the city's educators.

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Thursday, 28 October 2010 08:46

Klein to principals: Hire teachers now!

There are still 850 teacher vacancies across the city's nearly 1700 public schools.  If they aren't filled by October 29, schools may lose the money budgeted for those positions .

That's according to the Chancellor Klein's weekly memo to principals, which also advised that most vacancies must be filled by teachers now in the "excessed teachers pool." These are teachers who lost their jobs due to schools closing, or staff cuts, but who continue to receive a full salary, even though they are not in the classroom. There are 1700 teachers in the pool, 200 more than last year at this time.

Despite reductions in the school budgets this year, the city managed to avoid laying off teachers, even as it imposed some hiring restrictions.

These restrictions "will remain in place, and for most subject areas vacancies must be filled with internal staff," the memo says. "Within these limitations, you may still hire whomever you choose."

Exempted from the hiring restrictions back in June were special education, bilingual special education, and speech teachers.

The hiring restrictions run contrary to the mayor and chancellor’s moves to grant more autonomy to principals. They are necessary, the chancellor maintains, because they helped "avoid deeper cuts" yet still allow principals to "retain hiring power, even if they limited the talent pool."

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The Department of Education is hiring educators to fill the newly created positions of "master" and "turnaround" teachers. The new  positions were designed in conjunction with the United Federation of Teachers to allow principals in "transformation Schools", those deemed "persistently low achieving" that the DOE wants to improve rather than close, to recruit top notch teachers who can help train and mentor others.

The new positions offer big a big boost in salary for those hired -- 30 percent for "master" and 15 percent for "turnaround" teachers -- but demand a lot in return.  Teachers must commit to working three years at the school and log up to 100 hours per school year beyond the contractual limit on tasks such as teacher training, curriculum development, and student data analysis.

The deadline to apply is Monday, August, 9 at 5 p.m.  You can view the full job listing here.

If you're a teacher in the system, you may have received a recruitment letter from the DOE's human resources department.  If not, check it out here.

Thinking of applying?  Comment below.

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Recently, it seems the only conversation about education that anyone seems to be having is whether charter schools are better or worse than "regular" public schools. For me, this discussion has grown very old, and it is entirely missing the point. In order to improve education for all schools, we need to be talking about the classroom: what is happening between our teachers and our students as they engage around content and skills?

This is a much more difficult conversation than one about charter schools vs. district schools, and is not nearly as newsworthy. But it is one that many of the best schools in the city have every day even as the “white noise” of the news about budget cuts, test scores, and union negotiations attempt to distract us from our mission of educating every child.This Thursday is a Chancellor’s Day, one of two days each year when teachers get to work together for a whole day.

If you want to find out about what your school values, ask what your teachers will be doing on Thursday.At Arts & Letters, we will be conducting “Teacher Roundtables.” Each semester we ask our students to discuss their work with community members and teachers, and to answer questions about what they are learning in every subject. We realized that we cannot ask our students to do something that we are not doing ourselves, so we decided to do Roundtables for educators too. To prepare, each teacher has crafted a teaching question such as:

  • How can I create projects that allow all kinds of learners to engage and meet or exceed my expectations?
  • How can I ensure that students’ science notebooks demonstrate their thinking?
  • How do I inspire the uninspired artist?

The activity requires genuine curiosity about teaching and learning; all teachers bring a question and examples of their work and student work to look at. Teachers take turns critiquing one another’s work, using the question as their guide. Sometimes it will be celebratory, and sometimes, it will bring to light areas in which a teacher is struggling. It makes teachers visible, accountable to colleagues, and so much less isolated.

If we are serious about all schools becoming great, we must expect teachers to be the ultimate professionals, which means we need to make the conversation engaging, intellectual, and practical. And, we need to help the public understand that as long as the conversation remains mostly about how schools are structured and paid for, we are, at best, avoiding the hard work, and at worst, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

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Wednesday, 02 June 2010 09:27

No teacher layoffs for next year

Thousands of New York City teachers' jobs will be spared, but the city will eliminate pay raises for all teachers and principals for the next two years, Mayor Bloomberg announced earlier today.

“Laying off thousands of teachers is simply not the answer. It would devastate the school system and erase much of the great progress we’ve made – and all the hard work we’ve put into turning our schools around. There is simply nothing more important to a child’s education than a first-rate teacher," Bloomberg said in his statement.

Responding to the news, United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew lauded the decision to avoid teacher layoffs but disputed Bloomberg's authority to block salary increases. New York City teachers have been working without a contract since their latest one expired on October 31, 2009.

In a statement released late morning, Mulgrew said that Bloomberg "does NOT have the power to unilaterally decide on the teachers’ contract, and we have reached NO agreement on his proposal to freeze teacher pay. If the mayor has concrete ideas on the next contract, he and his representatives should bring them to the bargaining table at the Public Employment Relations Board, where our contract is currently in mediation."

The mayor's decision to keep jobs but block pay raises was made based on proposed cuts in State education aid but without the certainty of hard numbers because of stalled budget talks in the State Legislature.

"Our schools simply can’t wait any longer. Principals are already far past the point in the calendar when they must plan for the upcoming school year, and they need to know what kind of resources they can count on," Bloomberg said.

You can read Mayor Bloomberg's full statement here and UFT President Michael Mulgrew's statement here.

More news coverage here, here and here.

UPDATE:  Principals will be getting their 2010-11 budgets today, which will take into account the two-year wage freeze for teachers and principals announced by Mayor Bloomberg.

In a lengthy email to principals, Chancellor Joel I. Klein discussed cost-cutting features embedded in the new school budgets, including a continuation of last year's teacher hiring restrictions.  Principals will not be able to recruit teachers from outside the system to fill vacant positions.

Klein confirmed that there are immediate exceptions to the hiring restriction in the areas of special education, bilingual special education and speech. He will discuss the 2010-11 budgets with principals in detail during an interactive Webcast scheduled for tomorrow.

Read the full text of Chancellor Klein's email to principals at Gothamschools.

UPDATE - June 9, 2010: The Department of Education relaxed its teacher hiring restrictions less than a week after releasing the 2010-11 school budgets.  The revised hiring guidelines posted on Monday, June 7 permit new schools in their first three years of operation "to hire externally for up to 40% of their teaching vacancies."  The exception only applies to teaching positions in middle and high school grades. No schools, including new ones, are permitted to hire teachers from outside the system to fill vacancies in common branch (elementary school) or early childhood grades. The guidelines also permit 6 - 12 schools that have at least two more grades to phase in to hire externally to fill 40% of its teaching vacancies "in their expansion grade(s) only."

The DOE is continuing its exceptions to hiring restrictions for teacher recruitment in select subject areas including, special education, bilingual special education, speech improvement and bilingual subject areas other than those involving  early childhood or common branch Spanish bilingual  instruction. 

All other teaching vacancies must be filled by candidates excessed or transferring from other schools within the system.

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sdsds.jpgAnxiety and uncertainty continues to grow as principals grapple with the bad news that cuts to next year's school budgets are likely to be "sustantially larger" than the 4.9 percent slash in funding they absorbed this year.  The only good news in recent weeks was the DOE's decision not to charge individual school budgets for the costs of their unpaid school lunches.  The DOE reversed course two days after Insideschools first broke the story.

Schools will bear the brunt of the looming $500 million cut in school aid from Albany, Chancellor Joel I. Klein warned in testimony before the City Council on Monday. Teachers will be the hardest hit, with over 5000 projected to lose their jobs, while central staff positions will be reduced by a modest 245 positions.

Also at risk of being cut or scaled back are parent coordinator positions in high schools, school lunch options, middle school busing and high school internship and work-readiness programs.

In our last poll we asked our readers to imagine the worst -- massive teacher layoffs -- and consider who should make the decision about which teachers stay and which teachers go. Over 700 readers weighed in, but there was no clear consensus on should have the final say about layoffs. A majority of readers -- 53% -- believe that individual schools should decide, but even these voters were split, with 26% overall wanting principals to decide exclusively and another 27% wanting parents and teachers to have a say too.

Roughly a quarter -- 24% -- of all readers don't want seniority to be disregarded, preferring the LIFO (last in, first out) method be used, which would eliminate the jobs of teachers with the least work experience in the system.

The least, but not insignificant percentage -- 20 % -- agree with Chancellor Klein's preference to start with the 1600 teachers with "unsatisfactory" ratings and the 1000 teachers in the "excess" pool who have been unable to find a teaching job in schools this past year.

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The Panel for Educational Policy is scheduled to vote on several school co-locations at its monthly meeting tomorrow, May 18. Also on the agenda for the May meeting are a slew of Department of Education (DOE) contracts, including one for new teacher recruitment at the cost of nearly 5 million dollars.

More co-locations and a school expansion up for a vote

The Bronx Success Academy 1, the latest addition to the Success Academy network of charter schools, is slated to open in the PS 30 building in September, 2010.  In  Manhattan, the Hamilton Heights School will re-locate to the PS 153 building in  September, 2010.  While in Queens, the Queens Gateway to Health Sciences School, which  currently serves grades 7 through 12, will add a 6th grade beginning September, 2011.

Also up for a vote at the May PEP meeting is the proposed relocation of Clinton School for Artists and Writers.  As reported by Insideschools.org in March, the Clinton School was originally slated to move from its longtime home in the PS 11 building to PS 33.   When that plan drew criticism because it would displace PS 138, a special education program, the DOE switched gears, deciding to move Clinton to the American Sign Language and Dual Language Secondary School (PS 47) while construction is being completed on Clinton's new, permanent facility on East 15th Street.

For months, parents and staff at PS 47 have protested the proposed co-location over concern that the influx of more students into the building would infringe on the open space that PS 47's  students need to see each other sign.  Fueling their argument is a recent report by the UFT, claiming that adding another school to the PS 47 building would create serious safety hazards.

New teacher recruitment contract

While city schools are bracing for steep  budget cuts and teacher layoffs, the DOE is planning to spend  nearly 5 million dollars on new teacher recruitment.  Among the 26 DOE contracts up for a vote by the PEP at its May meeting is one with  The New Teacher Project, "to recruit, select, train and provide job search support to non-traditional candidates to become public school teachers as part of the New York City Teaching Fellow's Program," according to PEP records.

The Daily News reported that The New Teacher Project, which has contracted with the city since 2000 to recruit New York City Teaching Fellows, was paid 2.8 million last year to recruit 705 teachers.

Despite looming layoffs, there is a shortage of teachers in certain subject areas. In his webinar with prinicpals last week, Chancellor Joel I. Klein said that there is a need to hire teachers to serve special education students and possibly English language learners.

The PEP meets tomorrow, May 18 at 6 p.m. at Long Island City High School. You can view a list of the proposed changes to school utilization that are up for a vote, as well as links to the Educational Impact Statements here.

What are your thoughts on the proposed co-locations? Should the DOE spend money on new teacher recruitment when thousands of teacher jobs are at risk of being cut?  Please comment below.

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