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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Young v Old Teachers In New York City

Aside from the fact that in my mind making a policy that "old" teachers must be replaced by "young" teachers is discriminatory and unconstitutional, the discussion must focus on the subjective evaluation of individual abilty to teach rather than a general characteristic. Are all older teachers - say over 50 - no longer valuable to the teaching profession? How many of you readers instantly thought of an "older" teacher you have/had in school, whose teaching fired you up to learn more outside of the classroom in the subject he/she taught, and guided you to excel in his/her class? Are you now telling yourself, "yes, I loved this teacher, but maybe he/she was an exception"?

Age has nothing to do with good or bad teaching ability.

The argument for or against "older" teachers remaining in the classroom should stop right here. I have sent all four of my children to public schools in New York City, and my youngest graduates from high school this year, so I have more than 20 years of watching my kids' teachers in their classrooms. However, I and my twin sister went to a small private school on the Upper East side, Nightingale Bamford. My middle school English teacher, Ms. Vicory, seemed to be over 100 years old to my young mind, but her interpretation of great writers such as Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Austin, enthralled me and convinced me that reading the classics was something I wanted to do. I decided to be like Ms. Vicory when I got to be an "adult", let's just say I'm now over 21 years of age. Then, when I went on to college at Northwestern University, I was fortunate enough to get into the class of Dr. Bergen Evans,a teacher who, I am convinced, changed the way all writers look at the English language and use of words. I couldnt wait to attend his classes, even though he was so popular that I was one of more than 300 in the auditorium he called his classroom. The class size didnt matter, and neither did his age, which was over 50 when I was a student of his.

My children have had excellent teachers and teachers that taught them nothing at all. From my experience of going to each school my kids attended, and sitting through classes on parent visiting days for more than 20 years, I can say that the age of the teachers I observed had nothing to do with my opinion about their teaching ability.

Thus, my conclusion is, Mr. Klein's push to remove "older" teachers from their teaching duties is simply an attack on their salaries, not their abilities. In some cases this attack on a person's ability to teacher may be valid, but I refuse to give Mr. Klein the right to define who a "good" teacher really is.

On the other hand, how old is Joel Klein? Where is the return on the $250,000 of public money spent solely on his salary, plus all the 'perks' that he gets as the lawyer for the NYC Board of Education? Why was he chosen to be the person who decides who are our children's teachers?

These are the more relevant questions to the current budgetary concerns that plague New York City.

Younger teachers in New York like Marisa Raff, 28, are at risk in a last-in-first-out layoff system.

April 12, 2010
Bill Would Allow Layoffs of Teachers With Seniority

When the Bloomberg administration raised the prospect of teacher layoffs this year, administration officials complained that they would be forced to get rid of the youngest newest teachers, and called on legislators to rewrite the seniority rules.

That wish may be one step closer. Two Democratic state lawmakers have sponsored a bill that would give principals in New York City the power to choose who should lose their jobs if the city needs to lay off teachers because of budget cuts.

The bill is certain to raise the ire of teachers’ unions, which remain a powerful force in Albany. It could provoke also a new round of battles between the United Federation of Teachers and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who have had an icy relationship for months and are fighting over a new teachers’ contract.

Mr. Bloomberg has said that as many 8,500 teachers would face layoffs, as the city’s Education Department faces a budget cut of $600 million to $1.2 billion. Under the current law, teachers who have been in the system for the shortest amount of time would be the first to lose their jobs — a policy commonly known as last in, first out.

Last month, the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, released numbers showing that the layoffs would be concentrated in the one of the wealthiest and one of the poorest districts in the city: in a worst-case situation, District 7 in the South Bronx would lose 21 percent of its teachers and District 2 on the Upper East Side would lose 19 percent, according to the city analysis. Some of those teachers would be replaced by more-senior teachers from elsewhere in the system.

“Experience matters, but it cannot be the sole or even principal factor considered in layoff decisions,” Mr. Klein said in a statement. “We must be able to take into account each individual’s track record of success.”

Jonathan Bing, a Democratic assemblyman from the Upper East Side, said lobbyists from the city had approached him about sponsoring the bill soon after the city released those numbers.

“There needs to be some better way to go about doing this than to simply get rid of every teacher we have hired in the last few years,” Mr. Bing said. “This has to be, on some level, about merit.”

Mr. Bing said he had “great respect for teachers,” noted that the union had donated to several of his political campaigns and acknowledged that the bill would almost certainly anger it.

“We are in an educational and economic crisis like no other,” he added.

Under the bill, each school would form a committee of parents, teachers and administrators to determine who should be laid off.

Seniority protection is dear to labor unions, who say that without it, employers would use layoffs to eliminate workers who make the most money.

Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said that in other cities that had eliminated seniority, like Washington, the rate of teacher turnover had increased, making the system less stable.

“I would like to see something more fruitful to figure out how to avoid the catastrophic cuts,” Mr. Mulgrew said Monday.

The city appealed to State Senator Rubén Díaz of the Bronx to sponsor the bill in the Senate, although just last year Mr. Díaz said that Mr. Klein should be fired.

“I used to be angry at the way they were treating parents,” Mr. Díaz said. “Now this would allow parents to have a role. If a school needs to get rid of teachers, they should be able to decide their own special needs.”

April 24, 2010
Teacher Layoffs in New York City

To the Editor:

Re “Bill Would Allow Layoffs of Teachers With Seniority” (news article, April 13):

Despite all the publicity about New York City’s desire to fire or lay off senior teachers, scant mention has been made of money, a major factor in principals’ reluctance to rehire displaced teachers.

For decades, schools were financed with “units,” each being worth the salary of an average-service teacher. No matter whom the school hired, the cost was the same.

In a perhaps misguided effort to equalize financing to schools, this administration forces schools to bear the true costs of each teacher. Simply put, a principal can hire two beginning teachers — perhaps more — as cheaply as he can hire one senior teacher. My conversations with countless principals reflect this reality.

Though the chancellor has periodically offered temporary incentives — paying the differential for a limited period of time — the principal knows that the true cost will ultimately appear, forcing him to lay off a younger teacher to pay the senior teacher.

Any solution to the surplus of senior teachers without positions must reflect this reality if it is to be fair to those teachers whose only crime has been to give the city years of service.

Stephen Phillips
Brooklyn, April 13, 2010

The writer, program head, adolescence education at Brooklyn College School of Education, retired in 1997 as superintendent of alternative high schools and programs with the New York City Board of Education.

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