The Fight over Flunked-Out Teachers

Read this piece at City Journal


The Fight over Flunked-Out Teachers by Marcus A. Winters

At the direction of Bill de Blasio’s administration, New York City public school principals have begun filling vacancies with teachers languishing on the city’s Absent Teacher Reserve. Everyone knows that this decision is lousy for city kids, especially those most in need of top instructors. In hindsight, though, it was also inevitable: the rules that govern public schools are designed to look out for the interests of adults, not children.

The ATR is an example of what happens when commonsense reforms run up against an inflexible system. Former mayor Michael Bloomberg gave principals power to hire the teachers they thought best, ending the practice of filling open slots by seniority. But the teachers’ contract complicated the process. Laid-off teachers could either look for a position elsewhere or join the ATR, where they’re essentially paid not to work. The ATR pool grew as the administration closed the city’s worst schools, which, unsurprisingly, employed many of the city’s worst teachers. The ATR numbered some 822 teachers at the end of 2016, costing the city about $150 million—though the roster was once much larger. Those remaining on the list are still jobless even after the de Blasio administration began encouraging principals to hire teachers from the pool.

The ATR differs from the old “rubber rooms,” or reassignment centers, where suspended teachers accused of misconduct awaited the adjudication of their cases—while being paid for doing nothing. ATR teachers aren’t dangerous; they just can’t (or won’t) persuade a principal to hire them. About 12 percent of ATR teachers have received either an “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” performance rating, reserved for only the worst cases. (An absurd 97 percent of the city’s teachers earned “effective” or “highly effective” ratings last year.) The administration and the teachers’ union argue that permanently hiring teachers from the ATR—breaking with current policy, in which these teachers are used only as long-term substitutes—will bring stability to classrooms. The best way to stabilize classrooms, though, is for principals to hire effective teachers of their choice.


Read the entire piece here at City Journal, originally appearing in the Winter 2018 Issue.


Marcus Winters is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an associate professor at Boston University. Follow him on Twitter here.