New Teacher Programs Chip Away at Job Stability

Graduation rates were climbing to all-time highs in New York City’s alternative schools, where John Powers taught last year, before the Department of Education’s consultants arrived.

Citing under-performance, the city closed schools, and chopped some into smaller units, giving them new names. A new nameplate, however, forced the school’s teaching staff to reapply for their jobs.

“They only have to hire back into that building 50 percent of the people that worked there,” Powers said. “Simultaneously, principals are given their own budgets and it becomes a financial obligation to hire younger teachers—cheaper labor.”

The city found that pipeline of fresh-faced, inexpensive help in the New Teacher Project.

The program has chapters in several cities, placing college graduates (and others seeking a career change) in “high needs” schools after a six-week summer training. For two years, they receive funding for graduate study, take evening classes necessary for teaching certification, and teach.

Applicants for the NTP in New York have risen from 2,100 to 20,000 per year over the last seven years. This fall, 1,800 teachers entered classrooms through the program. A full 11 percent of all the city’s teachers come through the NTP.

RESERVE TEACHERS

Claiming that an investment in “human capital” will close the gap in test scores between white children and students of color, the city is shuttering or restructuring low-performing schools—and using the NTP to chip away at the stability of teaching jobs.

The 2005 contract signed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the American Federation of Teachers local in New York, has added to the instability. The contract ended “bumping rights” for tenured teachers who lose jobs. Instead of automatic placement in a new job based on experience, teachers with more than three years in the classroom now enter an “Absent Teacher Reserve” with pay and benefits until they can find employment—contingent on a principal’s consent.

Rising numbers of non-tenured teachers, entering through the NTP’s teaching fellows (and a similar program, Teach for America), make it difficult for experienced, higher-paid instructors to find work.

NTP’s chairman now is pressing to fix a timetable after which reserve teachers should face termination, a demand echoed by schools chief Joel Klein. He wants to fire teachers after 18 months on the reserve rolls. For the moment, UFT’s no-layoff clause protects the 1,400 tenured teachers who are seeking their own classroom.

“We’re creating a situation where your most talented and experienced will be fired,” said Powers.

INSECURITY FOR ALL

The new labor flexibility in schools whipsaws younger workers against older ones—and produces a workforce beholden to principals.

Help Put the Movement Back in the Labor Movement

Become a Labor Notes Monthly Sustaining Donor

Monthly donors receive a free "Fight the Boss, Build the Union" T-shirt and a subscription to our magazine. Donate Now. »

Three months into the school year, Andy Mandel is still subbing at a Harlem junior high. He hasn’t found the full-time job he sought by joining the NTP’s teaching fellows this summer.

When applying, Mandel and others signed a form requiring them to find their own classroom by December or lose their fellowship, funding, provisional license and all. Mandel says the form violates the state’s protection of union rights and the contract’s ban on at-will firings.

But the union, he says, isn’t focused on the needs of young teachers. The Department of Education has fired teaching fellows under this agreement three years straight. “They didn’t notice until we brought it to their attention,” Mandel said.

In his first months, Mandel has taught every grade and every subject but gym. “One of the fellows is filling in for the dean. He’s been working the in-school suspension room,” he says. “Another fellow has administered eye exams, and we volunteer to move desks around and carry boxes of books. It works out well for our principal.”

Lacking sufficient training, overworked teachers flood in and out of the system, with little ability to organize and few job protections when they speak up. “You’re not going to stick your neck out as much in a situation where the principal can just send you packing,” said Dianne, a math teacher in Brooklyn and union delegate who is thinking of her own neck.

CHAOS IN THE CLASSROOM

An urban instructor’s career once stretched 20 years or more, said Bill Balderston, a teachers union board member in Oakland, where the New Teacher Project also places teachers. “Now it’s very rare to have people for more than three years,” he said.

Michael Mebane experiences that instability first-hand at his Brooklyn middle school. “I have been subbing four classes a day at a very difficult school,” he said, “and teaching one special-ed computer class, which I’m not certified to teach.”

Under pressure from teachers upset about the classroom chaos, the union filed a grievance on behalf of New York fellows who face early termination.

Their December deadline nearing, new teachers tried to expedite a lengthy grievance process by protesting at the Department of Education in early November. Klein’s office turned them away.

As Labor Notes went to press, the union reached a tentative agreement with the education department. The city maintains the principal’s consent rule, but gives subsidies to schools to hire reserve teachers full time, covering the pay difference between a reserve and a new teacher.

Still, schools will have the option to hire reserve teachers provisionally and return them to the pool of waiting teachers at year’s end.

Members of the Independent Community of Educators, a UFT reform grouping, won a resolution last month calling for a rally November 24. Despite the new agreement, the protest is on to demand a hiring freeze until reserve teachers and teaching fellows are placed in classrooms. And rumors continue to fly that the DOE will axe teachers young and old as the city scrambles to close a $4 billion deficit in the next 18 months.

“Our no-layoff clause can be rescinded only if the city declares a fiscal emergency,” Powers said.

Comments

Lida Diyet Zayı... (not verified) | 06/13/09

The New York City public school system, despite some bright spots, provides most of its students with a woefully inadequate education. The Mayor and the Chancellor have managed to give the public beyond New York a very different impression, selling their "achievement" craftily in much the same manner that Federal Reserve chief Greenspan and his investment bank buddies sold the housing boom to the country at large over the past ten years.

Paul A. Moore (not verified) | 12/12/08

Brother Powers got to the crux of the matter when he mentioned that the New Teacher Project was a pool of cheap labor. It is the masters of the global economy come to America's public schools.

The global economy is at the very foundation of business model for schools, charters, vouchers, data driven instruction, merit pay, standardized testing, and most perversely of all, paying students to consume the corporate version of education.

It all began when the globalizers, fueled with the fire of the Reagan Revolution, put together their devious campaign at the Business Roundtable education summit in 1989. Standardized testing would be their primary weapon. The tests would isolate urban schools first and bury them under public posturing for accountability. The corporate vultures from Edison Schools and the others would move in to pick up the pieces and impose their gospel, the business model. Vouchers and charter schools would even redirect public monies to the destruction of public schools.

Toxic wastes, like incessant testing and mindless data collection and merit pay plans, would be pumped into the public school environment to sicken both teachers and students. And bye-and-bye the corporations would have a brave new education system to serve their global economy.

And they were so close when the roof fell in recently. They had their blueprint for legally closing public schools, the No Child Left Behind Act, in place. Billionaire Bloomberg and his CEO sidekick Joel Klein were in control in New York City. Mayor Daley and Arne Duncan were strangling the Chicago Public Schools. Mayor Villariagosa and Admiral Brewer were trying to get their hands around the throats of the Los Angeles Unified Public Schools. Jeb Bush, in and out of office, was calling the shots in Florida. Bill Gates had succeeded in winning Washington D.C. for Mayor Fenty and he in turn introduced the nation to a new level of ruthlessness and brutality in the person and policies of Michelle Rhee. Eli Broad's superintendents dotted the landscape from Vallas in New Orleans to Crew in Miami, chirping over the achievement gap and with grave voices declaring "the children of Singapore are eating our kids lunch." Many of those pesky democratically elected school boards had been eliminated.

Then just as the campaign appeared ready to bear fruit, their rationale for being, their precious global economy, crashed! Their pride and joy is on fire. It was supposed to be immutable. It was eternal! Now the attitude is all gone.

A forlorn John Castellani's mug has been all over TV recently. He's the president of the Business Roundtable. Who could have imagined that less than twenty years after their education summit these same men would appear on their knees, hat in hand, to desperately plead with every public school teacher, parent and student to give them $3,000 as their share of a $700 billion public bailout. Goodness, what happened to their vaunted business model? Somehow these proponents of data driven education have no idea what their collateralized debt obligations (CDO's) and structured investment vehicles (SIV's) are worth. Most shockingly, the poster boys for accountability who pranced around with their noses in the air chanting "no excuses" over the battered minds and bodies of poor children, now beg for sympathy and want to be rescued by their victims!

The New York City public school system, despite some bright spots, provides most of its students with a woefully inadequate education. The Mayor and the Chancellor have managed to give the public beyond New York a very different impression, selling their "achievement" craftily in much the same manner that Federal Reserve chief Greenspan and his investment bank buddies sold the housing boom to the country at large over the past ten years. That charade demands exposure. But such an effort will advance the quality of public education and enable teachers to defend their job security and resist encroachment on their teaching only if it is tied to a viable (and in this case radical) reform alternative.

Burghardt (not verified) | 11/28/08

Under Joel Klein's leadership, the Department of Education has committed to a "labor discipline," privatization policy that it has rather successfully, as far as the mainstream media is concerned, disguised in the rhetoric of 21st Century civil rights. Citing, for example, Ivy League studies that note a decrease in teacher efficiency after three or four years (based on declining student test scores!), the D.O.E. has implemented an assortment of budgetary and assessment devices that make the retention of experienced teachers problematic for individual schools. The assessment systems, which are fraudulent and wasteful, rely on services that are contracted out to private agencies with little, if any, organic connection to actual schools.

That being said, calls for the preservation of job security and seniority must be linked to programmatic demands for genuine staff development under the auspices of greater teacher control of school curriculum and governance. The DOE has been able to manipulate the control schools have won over hiring to erode job security and impose test-driven curriculum precisely because neither the union leadership nor the various rank and file opposition groups have had anything concrete to offer as far as a more democratic control of the workplace is concerned. Yes, there are many experienced teachers whose jobs must be defended and many of them take seriously the work of educating students. But most have been trained in conventional teaching methods that inadequately prepare students and too few have see a role for themselves in curriculum development or school governance.

The New York City public school system, despite some bright spots, provides most of its students with a woefully inadequate education. The Mayor and the Chancellor have managed to give the public beyond New York a very different impression, selling their "achievement" craftily in much the same manner that Federal Reserve chief Greenspan and his investment bank buddies sold the housing boom to the country at large over the past ten years. That charade demands exposure. But such an effort will advance the quality of public education and enable teachers to defend their job security and resist encroachment on their teaching only if it is tied to a viable (and in this case radical) reform alternative.

It's a shame that older, experienced teachers and being thrown aside because of budget necessities. Many people simply don't appreciate that value of an experienced teacher and assume that all teachers are completely fungible. However, with budget deficits soaring, it's going to be a tough battle to avoid the kinds of things written of in this article.

nickfromavvo