The Absent Teacher Reserve: New Data and More Questions

by | Jul 13, 2018 | Statements

To: Education Reporters
From: Ian Rosenblum, Executive Director of The Education Trust–New York

Evan Stone, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Educators for Excellence

Date: July 13, 2018
Re: The ATR – New Data and More Questions

Background

In response to the New York City Department of Education’s (DOE’s) decision to permanently place teachers from the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) into schools with vacancies as of October 15, 2017, Ed Trust–NY and Educators for Excellence raised concerns that teachers from the ATR pool would be disproportionately placed in high-need schools serving low-income students and students of color. We called for full and immediate transparency and – most importantly – for policies that ensure that historically under-served students have access to the strongest educators.

To further these goals, we filed a series of FOIL requests beginning in November 2017, seeking information about where teachers from the ATR had been placed and key details including why they had been in the ATR pool and their level of effectiveness.

Over the next several months, the DOE released limited data in response to our requests. Most notably from the initial data release, our analysis found that the 41 teachers from the ATR who had been permanently placed into classrooms by DOE were disproportionately assigned to schools that serve Black students, schools that serve low-income students, and schools with significant academic needs.

New Data & What Comes Next

As we approach both a new school year and contract negotiations between the DOE and UFT, providing historically under-served students with access to the strongest educators should be the DOE’s top priority. In that context, continuing the status quo on placement of ATR teachers is a roadblock to advancing equity.

The latest data that we received from DOE reinforces the importance of making equity-minded decisions that focus on the needs of students with regard to the disposition of those who remain in the ATR pool. While we intended to wait until DOE’s production of data pursuant to the FOIL request was completed, the DOE has missed its own deadlines in providing the remaining data and we believe the public deserves access to the information produced so far.

According to the newest information released from the DOE in response to our FOIL requestnone of the 41 ATR members who were placed by the DOE into vacancies that existed as of October 15, 2017, had been rated “Ineffective” or “Unsatisfactory” in their most recent evaluation.

We also began asking in late 2017 about the characteristics of (as described by DOE in a memo to reporters at the beginning of last school year) the “205 teachers [who] have been provisionally hired from the ATR pool since the first day of school – these are placements for the entire school year. As part of a policy new for the 2017-18 school year, if a teacher provisionally hired from the ATR receives a Highly Effective or Effective rating in their observation and there is a remaining vacancy in their license for next school year, that teacher will be permanently hired by the school.”

According to a partial response to our FOIL request, 5 ATR members from this pool had been rated “Unsatisfactory” in their most recent evaluation.

These new data points reinforce the conclusion that DOE was highly selective in who it placed into vacancies last year, likely in response to intense public scrutiny, and that principals largely avoided hiring teachers from the pool who had been rated Ineffective.

That makes what happens next all the more important – and potentially troubling from an equity perspective.

A Chalkbeat article from August 2017 noted that “Twelve percent of teachers in the pool received an ‘ineffective’ or ‘unsatisfactory’ rating in 2015-16, and about 7 percent received a ‘developing’ rating, one step up from ineffective.”

While there have been a number of changes in the composition of the ATR pool since 2015-16, the effectiveness data on the 41 teachers who DOE placed into vacancies and the 205 teachers who were provisionally hired by principals suggests that those who remain in the ATR may be even more disproportionately “Ineffective” or “Unsatisfactory” compared to the city’s overall teaching corps.

Questions to consider:

  • Before the school year begins, what are the characteristics of the teachers who remain in the ATR, including area of certification, effectiveness rating, duration in the ATR, and reason for placement into the ATR?
  • What steps is DOE planning to take to reduce the ATR pool in 2018-19, and will these include disproportionately assigning ATR members to schools that serve Black students and low-income students and schools with significant academic needs (as was the case in 2017-18)?
  • Will the next teachers’ contract enact meaningful limits on the ATR that better serve educators and students?