New York’s Not So Finest

Forcing bad teachers into classrooms but good teachers out.


New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks during a new teacher week event at the UFT offices in Manhattan, Sept. 1, 2016.
New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña speaks during a new teacher week event at the UFT offices in Manhattan, Sept. 1, 2016. PHOTO: KEVIN HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio cruised to re-election Tuesday against opponents who had little money or name recognition. New Yorkers can now look forward to four more years of Mr. de Blasio’s political contributions to the United Federation of Teachers union that backs him.

One reason the UFT loves the mayor is his recent decision to ensure that unhireable teachers are also unfireable. Worse, the Department of Education is now forcing schools to fill hundreds of vacancies from its Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR), putting failed instructors back in the classroom full-time.

New York’s statistics show how awful many of these teachers are. Those in the absent teacher pool were deemed either “ineffective” or “unsatisfactory” at a rate 12 times higher than the city average. Roughly a third were yanked from the classroom because of a legal or disciplinary case. Teachers in the ATR can apply at any vacant position across New York City’s 1,700 public schools, so it’s worth wondering why 37% of ATR teachers haven’t managed to find any principal willing to give them a permanent job for four years or more. 

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has promised that ATR teachers won’t be foisted on any of the 86 struggling K-12s in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Renewal School Program. That’s a tacit admission that these instructors pose a risk to student education. But ATR teachers can be forcibly placed at other troubled non-renewal schools, including East Fordham Academy for the Arts in the Bronx, where 98% of students lack basic math skills, and Brooklyn’s Lyon Community School, where just 8% of students achieve reading and writing proficiency.

Ms. Fariña also claims New York is “not putting people who have a record of not behaving in any school.” Then again, three years ago, she also promised that “there will be no forced placement of staff.”

Meanwhile, even as the union protects these lousy teachers, it is accusing charter schools of an effort to “significantly undercut the quality of teaching.” New teacher certification standards for charters, approved last month, will allow 179 schools to make nontraditional hires, from Ph.D. physicists looking for a career change to bright young liberal-arts grads who lack only a master’s in teaching.

But unions don’t want public schools to face competition from charters, so they’re trying to create barriers to entry for their teachers. Charter teachers aren’t unionized and won’t be forced to pay dues. The union also represents the professors at master’s-degree mills that benefit from a captive clientele. So the union and its New York affiliate filed a lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court challenging the new charter certification standards.

In other words, the union that wants to keep bad teachers in the classroom now also wants to keep good teachers out.

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