This school year, mostly due to a wave of retirements added to the normal teacher attrition rates, there were 6,000 teacher vacancies that principals needed to fill. One would think the DOE would have encouraged the schools to interview and hire the ATRs since they represent a group of highly experienced teachers that many schools are desperate to have for their students. However, because of how the DOE funds the schools, and the many Leadership Academy principals in the system (20%), the opposite is true. Many schools selected the most inexpensive teachers they could find so that teacher salaries didn't eat up their tight budgets. The few ATRs that were hired were either untenured or had less than five years in the system.
While new blood helps a school, when they are hired to fill selected positions, many schools only hire the "newbies" simply because they're the most inexpensive. This is especially true in the small schools with Leadership Academy principals. The problem is that these "newbie teachers" lack the characteristics of what a quality teacher has.
- Content knowledge
- Teaching experience
- Classroom management
- Overall academic ability
- Professional certification in content specity
The students who are exposed to the "newbie teachers" find themselves as guinea pigs to the teacher's steep learning curve and can't achieve their academic potential since the teacher is learning his or her craft themselves. In the better schools that might not be as great a problem since the students tend to be self motivated and peer pressure helps them stay on the right academic path. However, in the struggling schools the influx of "newbie teachers" instructing academically challenged students is a recipe for disaster. The students instantly realize the "newbie teacher" is floundering and turn off to learning as they misbehave and lack respect for the teacher. Furthermore, I have been to many high schools where teachers are not teaching in their certification area, an example is Richmond Hill where all Earth Science classes are taught by teachers without certification in the subject. Last year I was in a school that simply decided not to give a Regents in the subject rather than hiring a certified Earth Science teacher in when their teacher took extended leave.
While a quality teacher only makes about a 1% to 14% difference in a student's academic outcome (VAM), having a quality teacher is still very important for the student. However, the present DOE policy ensures that the high poverty struggling schools will experience high teacher turnover and an influx of "newbie teachers" that will not only limit a student's academic achievement but will maintain the already unacceptably wide racial/income academic achievement gap.
What can the DOE do about this?
First, they must eliminate the "fair student funding" that is a disaster for schools and make staff salaries units that are funded by DOE Central. This will; allow principals the ability to hire the "best and not the cheapest teachers" for their schools.
Second, encourage principals to hire ATRs by giving them a subsidy, similar to what was done back in 2009 that allows principals the ability to pick up an ATR at the salary of a "newbie teacher" with DOE Central picking up the rest, if the DOE refuses to eliminate the "fair student funding". Paying over $150 million dollars annually for babysitting services does not help student academic achievement while starving schools of much needed funding.
Third, significantly reduce the DOE bureaucratic bloat that starves the schools. A good start would be the downsizing of the Accountability and Legal departments.
Finally, reduce class sizes. Teaching 34 students in a class is much too large for real academic achievement. Classes should be capped at 25 and even less for the K-2 grades which is more in line with the rest of New York State..
Until the disappointing Chancellor, Carmen Farina, actually changes the DOE funding policy, don't look for any real student academic achievement and a narrowing of the racial/income achievement gap.