Friday Reading List: Empire State of Mind

Kate Taylor of The New York Times looks at a new plan to diversify some of Manhattan's public schools:

Parents and advocates of integration in the East Village and Lower East Side have pushed for a plan to improve diversity in their district’s elementary schools for years. On Thursday, the New York City Education Department announced that it was implementing a school choice system aimed at increasing the racial and socioeconomic diversity in their district, Community School District 1 ... Under the new plan, priority for 67 percent of the seats in kindergarten and prekindergarten at every elementary school will be given to students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, live in temporary housing or are learning English.

Later in the article, Naomi Peña, the president of the local community education council, says, "We've got to start somewhere," a sentiment that roughly encapsulates my own thoughts on the issue. On the one hand, I'm frustrated with the brutally slow pace of integration in this city and country. On the other hand, anyone who has a "quick fix" for residential and schools segregation is selling you a bag of ...

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In other NYC news, Monica Disare of Chalkbeat parses Chancellor Carmen Fariña's plan to force-place unassigned teachers in schools:

Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to drain the pool of teachers —  known as the “absent teacher reserve” — who lost their permanent jobs for disciplinary or legal reasons, or because their previous positions were eliminated, but who still receive full salaries. To do that, the city is placing those teachers in schools with openings — to the chagrin of critics (including some principals) who worry the city will offload troubled teachers onto needy schools. Fariña urged principals to keep an open mind about the teachers, while also promising to send a “whole squad” to evaluate any who cause problems.

To put this issue in perspective, it's important to remember that there are more than 70,000 teachers in the NYC public system, and the "absent teacher reserve" includes less than 1% of all of those teachers. The chancellor is asking principals to "take a chance" on some of these teachers.

Chris Stewart of Citizen Education has a different perspective:

Budget pressures are making the ATR indefensible. With an astronomical price tag of $150 million last year (and an estimated cumulative $1 billion spent over 12 years), almost no one can support wasting scarce resources on teachers who aren’t teaching, many who haven’t taught in years. Mayor Bill De Blasio’s current administration say the logical thing to do is to empty the ATR and shoehorn up to 400 of these teachers into schools that don’t want or need them. That would be easier than locating a spine and fighting for the managerial prerogative to fire them.

Stewart goes on to call out some local activists that he thinks ought to be outraged about this decision. He points out that most of these unwanted teachers will be placed in schools that already are struggling to meet the needs of socioeconomically insecure children and families. It's hard to imagine a school in a privileged community acquiescing to this, mostly because parents with political power find ways to avoid chronically ineffective teachers.

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The interests of organized labor and poor children do not always line up, and this is one of the clearest instances of that disconnect. Moreover, this is yet another instance of the mayor and his chancellor choosing the politically expedient option over the academically rigorous one. It's hard enough to run a school for low-income children, and I can think of almost nothing that would make the job of a principal harder than having an adult in the building who doesn't want to be there. It's wildly unfair to the students

But guess what? It's also completely unfair to the teachers themselves! If someone can't find one of the 70,000+ jobs in the NYC public school system, maybe he should look elsewhere for employment. Teaching isn't for everyone, and if you can't handle the intensity of one of the world's hardest jobs, that's nothing of which to be ashamed. But don't force taxpayers to foot the bill because the city doesn't have the guts to have a real conversation with its labor force about the rigors of teaching.

Have a nice weekend ...