Streams

34 Low-Performing Schools to Learn Their Fate

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Thirty-four troubled New York City schools will find out Friday whether they'll get extra help next fall to improve, or if they'll eventually face more drastic changes.

The schools are on the state's list of “persistently low achieving schools” and qualify to receive about $2 million each, annually, in federally funded improvement grants over three years. The city was supposed to tell the state its plans for the schools earlier this month but needed more time to negotiate with the teachers' union.

The city must decide which of four federally approved school-improvement models to apply at each school. Though it's not revealing any details about what will happen at each school until later on Friday, officials say 11 of them will be allowed to continue pretty much as is through an approach called "transformation." Some of their principals might be replaced, but no teachers would be removed. Under this transformation model, the Department of Education will also bring in experts to help the schools improve counseling and other support services for students.

Under a new agreement with the United Federation of Teachers, all 34 of the schools will eventually get some teachers with two new titles: turnaround and master teachers. These positions will be paid an extra 15 and 30 percent, respectively, and they’ll work with their colleagues to improve instruction. “They have to agree to this added responsibility and additional workload and then they can be part of the educational plan that moves the school forward. It works for the kids and it works for the teachers,” says United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

The turnaround and master teachers will be chosen based partly on their ability to lift student test scores in what the city and the union consider a pilot program. The state’s new evaluation system allows districts to rate teachers through a combination of test scores and observations by professionals, and districts are still refining their plans.

The 23 schools that aren't chosen for the less drastic transformation model may be phased out and replaced with small schools or charter schools. But it's too late to make those sweeping changes this Fall, because state law requires six months’ notice before the start of a new school year. As a result, the city's asking the state to allow those schools to begin more drastic turnaround changes in the 2011-12 school year. Those schools would have at least 50 percent of their teachers replaced, under the federal requirements. Some of them are among the 19 schools the city tried to phase out this year until it was blocked by a court, following a lawsuit by the teachers union and the local NAACP.

Phasing out more schools and letting go of so many teachers would undoubtedly contribute to the costly pool of excess teachers, who continue to receive full paychecks indefinitely while working as substitutes or waiting to find new positions.

The Bloomberg administration would like to limit how long teachers can stay in this pool but the union has resisted and contract talks are currently at an impasse.

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