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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Teacher Tenure Is On Its Way Out The Door

Council Finds States Weakening Teacher Tenure

By Education Week Teacher
America's public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren't performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.
The changes are occurring as states replace virtually automatic "satisfactory" teacher evaluations with those linked to teacher performance and base teacher layoffs on performance instead of seniority. Politically powerful teachers' unions are fighting back, arguing the changes lower morale, deny teachers due process, and unfairly target older teachers.Luna says good teachers shouldn't be worried.
The debate is so intense that in Idaho, for example, state superintendent Tom Luna's truck was spray painted and its tires slashed. An opponent appeared at his mother's house and he was interrupted during a live TV interview by an agitated man. Why? The Idaho legislature last year ended "continuing contracts"—essentially equivalent to tenure—for new teachers and said performance, not seniority, would determine layoffs. Other changes include up to $8,000 in annual bonuses given to teachers for good performance, and parent input on evaluations. Opponents gathered enough signatures to put a referendum that would overturn the changes on the November ballot.
"We had a system where it was almost impossible to financially reward great teachers and very difficult to deal with ineffective teachers. If you want an education system that truly puts students first, you have to have both," Luna said.
On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue during his State of the Union address. He said schools should be given the resources to keep and reward good teachers along with the flexibility to teach with creativity and to "replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn."
Tenure protections were created in the early 20th century to protect teachers from arbitrary or discriminatory firings based on factors such as gender, nationality or political beliefs by spelling out rules under which they could be dismissed after a probationary period.
Critics say teachers too often get tenure by just showing up for work—typically for three years, but sometimes less, and that once they earned it, bad teachers are almost impossible or too expensive to fire. The latest statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, dating to the 2007-2008 school year, show about 2 percent of teachers dismissed for poor performance, although the numbers vary widely by school district.
The analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy group that seeks to improve the quality of teaching, documents the shift in laws. In 2009, no state required student performance to be central to whether a teacher is awarded tenure; today, eight states do. The analysis also says four states now want evidence that students are learning before awarding tenure.
Other changes:
• In Florida, tenure protections were essentially made null and void with policy changes such as eliminating tenure-like benefits altogether for new teachers, but also spelling out requirements under which all teachers with multiple poor evaluations face dismissal.
• Rhode Island policies say teachers with two years of ineffective evaluations will be dismissed.
• Colorado and Nevada passed laws saying tenure can be taken away after multiple "ineffective" ratings.
• Eleven states now require districts to consider teacher performance when deciding who to let go.
• About half of all states have policies that require classroom effectiveness be considered in teacher evaluations.
• Florida, Indiana and Michigan adopted policies that require performance to be factored in teacher salaries.
A growing body of research demonstrates the dramatic difference effective teachers can play in student lives, from reducing teenage pregnancies to increasing a student's lifetime earnings. Meanwhile, while controversial, teacher evaluations have evolved in a way that proponents say allows better accounting of students' growth and of factors out of a teacher's control, like attendance.
The Obama administration has helped nudge the changes with its Race to the Top competition, which allowed states to compete for billions of education dollars, and offering states waivers around unpopular proficiency requirements in the No Child Left Behind education law. To participate in either, states have to promise changes such as tying teacher evaluations to performance.
"There's a real shift to saying all kids, especially our most disadvantaged kids, have access to really high quality and effective teachers. And, that's it's not OK for kids to have ... an ineffective teacher year after year," said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Jacobs said tenure should be meaningful, but that in 39 states it's automatic.
"That's the problem with tenure, everybody gets it," she said. "If you're held to a high bar where you've really demonstrated that you are effective in the classroom, then there's nothing wrong with that as long as the due process rights that you do get are reasonable."
But many teachers feel under siege. They argue the evaluation systems are too dependent on standardized tests. While teachers' unions have gotten more on board with strengthening teacher evaluations, they often question the systems' fairness and want them designed with local teachers' input.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said unions understand the tenure process needs change, but that too often, school administrators have used it as an excuse to mismanage. "They want teachers to basically do exactly what they say, give them no resources and then blame them if they don't in a time of tremendous fiscal instability and fiscal pressures," Weingarten said.
In Boise, Idaho, Lane Brown, 56, a biology and horticulture teacher who moved from a private school a few years ago to a public alternative high school to seek new challenges after three decades of teaching, said her school's climate has dramatically changed.
"There's nobody in this building that doesn't understand it could be one of us, not just the newest teacher or the teacher with the fewest number of students. It could be anybody, ... which is scary. Every teacher here is saying, 'I don't know if I'm going to have a job next year,'" Brown said.
In Florida, teachers fear expressing what they feel is best for students, said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.
"Teachers see positions not being filled, class sizes increasing, more demands, more testing, and you add all that together with their economic uncertainty about continued employment and it certainly doesn't allow you to go out and plan for long term investments like a home," Ford said.
Kathy Hebda, the deputy chancellor for education quality in Florida, said the contract-related changes were not done in "isolation," but as part of broader changes that improve accountability and provide teachers feedback
Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., acknowledged widespread mistrust among teachers about evaluations, but she said once teachers are brought into discussions, many are won over.
"If we know who the effective teachers are, if we know what kind of an impact effective teachers can have on individual kids and on our society overall, then why wouldn't we take the obvious step of utilizing the information on who are the most effective teachers to make our staffing decisions?" said Rhee, whose education advocacy group StudentsFirst is pushing for changes to layoff policies based on seniority.
Coming up, Missouri legislators appear poised to take up the contentious topic of teacher tenure. In Connecticut, the Connecticut Education Association launched a TV advertising campaign after Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders said education reform—and possibly tenure—will be the major focus of this legislative session. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, both Republicans, are eyeing tenure law changes.
"Tenure laws will be under assault for many years to come," said Marjorie Murphy, a professor of history at Swarthmore College who wrote a book about the teacher labor movement. Murphy said ending tenure protections will "take over any sense of fair play between employer and employee. All of that will be gone."

Evaluating Teachers With Facts Is Overlooked For Political Purposes

When I worked for the UFT, my job was to look into the cases of members who were
charged with incompetency or misconduct in the classroom, or were being harassed
at their school. What became very clear to me very early, in 2005, (I started working
at the UFT in 2007) was that the agenda of the City of New York was to remove
highly paid teachers from their positions for any and no reason, and hire two lower
 paid teachers in their places.
Betsy Combier

Petty Differences Mask Consensus on Teachers

Popular culture has surely produced no more satiric a view of that great scourge of public progress, the Apathetic Teacher, than last year’s bluntly titled comedy “Bad Teacher.” In the film, Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a junior high school teacher so incompetent and chemically regulated that she shows movies all day, barely registers one student’s slapping another with coleslaw and steals the answers to a state-administered exam. A bonus of $5,700 is to be given to the teacher whose students score highest on the test, and Halsey pursues it to pay for her adventures in plastic surgery. Perhaps you watched the movie wondering whether it had been subsidized by a political action committee aimed at dismantling the teachers’ union.
Regarding teachers’ unions with a certain distaste, maintaining the belief that they exist to champion inadequacy, is now virtually required for membership in the affluent, competitive classes, no matter an affiliation on the right or left. Over the past two weeks, as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg have aggressively pushed for phasing in a new, more rigorous teacher evaluation process — with tens of millions of dollars in state and federal aid to schools at stake — they have deployed a rhetoric of enmity, one meant to suggest that the state’s teachers’ unions are committed to keeping talentless hacks in jobs they can’t handle. As the governor put it on Monday, “Our schools are not an employment program.”
What has been lost in these performances of reproach and imperiousness is the extent to which the city and state, and the related unions (the United Federation of Teachers in the first instance and New York State United Teachers in the second) are generally in agreement over how classroom evaluations ought to be held and what, in fact, constitutes sound teaching. As it happens, the state union was at work devising substantive evaluation reform more than a year before Mr. Cuomo even took office.
The history unfolds as follows: In 2010, the state passed a law requiring school districts to institute new teacher evaluation systems to replace the thumbs-up-thumbs-down, Siskel & Ebert model that previously prevailed. The new system would tie 40 percent of a teacher’s rating to standardized test scores and 60 percent to observations of the teacher in class.
Keeping the new assessment protocols from operating right now — something the mayor and governor seem so desperately to want — are not vast differences in philosophy but nagging disagreements over bureaucratic implementation: at the city level, a dispute between the United Federation and the Department of Education over how appeals of poor teacher ratings might be arbitrated, and at the state level, a lawsuit filed by the union against the Board of Regents for pushing the 2010 law beyond its intent. A decision handed down last summer in State Supreme Court in Albany sided largely with labor, but the state chose to pursue the time-depleting course of an appeal nevertheless.
Where a great deal of consensus lies is around the ideas of a woman named Charlotte Danielson, who 16 years ago created a method for evaluating teachers that judges them according to four domains, each with numerous categories and subcategories: the quality of questions and discussion techniques; a knowledge of students’ special needs; the expectations set for learning and achievement; and the teacher’s involvement in professional development activities. The section for assessing the strength of the classroom-learning environment has 15 criteria — down to the placement of furniture.
Ms. Danielson’s program, which also trains principals in how to properly execute the evaluations, is already being used in several states and on a pilot basis in 140 New York City schools (though in the experimental phase the outcomes will have no consequence). In November, a study out of the University of Chicago that looked at Ms. Danielson’s method as it was practiced in Chicago schools determined that it was not only a considerable improvement over an old evaluation system but that, just as significant, it established a shared definition of what good teaching was.
Ms. Danielson, who runs her own educational consulting firm in Princeton, N.J., is perfectly suited to appeal to potentially opposing sides in the debates about education reform. As an Oxford-trained economist, she thinks both entrepreneurially and progressively. In the late 1960s she gave up research stints at the Council of Economic Advisers and the Brookings Institution to work as a teacher in Washington’s ailing public school system.
“If all you do is judge teachers by test results,” she told me when I visited her this week, “it doesn’t tell you what you should do differently.”
Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, speaks about Ms. Danielson almost as though he were producing an infomercial for her. “I taught for 13 years, and I would have loved to have been trained in this method,” he said. “I have no doubt it would have made me a better teacher.” And yet he, too, is capable of the kind of retaliatory small-mindedness that so often halts the momentum of winning ideas. So offended was he by the mayor’s “obnoxious” attitude toward the union in his State of the City address that Mr. Mulgrew disinvited the Education Department from sessions in which principals were being trained in Ms. Danielson’s methods.
While the intensity around evaluation reform is ultimately a very good thing, it sidesteps something crucial: that we can’t attract the best and the brightest teachers without drastically changing the status of the profession. Paying good teachers more is important — and the mayor, admirably, has committed to doing that — but money isn’t solely at issue. Each year hundreds of intelligent people in their 20s move to apartments in Astoria and lofts in Greenpoint with their degrees from Oberlin and Brown and the University of Michigan to pursue glamorous work that often pays excruciatingly little — assisting documentary filmmakers, assisting assistants at prestigious magazines. Some of their friends may go to Teach for America, but many of them will do their two years and move on.
Maybe what teaching needs is a new movie that makes it seem as hot as Condé Nast.


Jan. 18, 2012, 3:59 p.m.
In the long-simmering debate over how to judge the quality of New York State school employees, there is one thing all sides agree on: a system should be in place.
The sticking point has been agreeing about how to do it. There is the fight between New York City and its teachers’ union over the parameters of an evaluation system that must be put in place in 33 struggling schools. And there is the fight waged in court by the state teachers’ union, which sued the Board of Regents last year over its interpretation of a law on teacher evaluations.
Some $800 million in federal money is on the line, as well as millions in state aid to local schools. On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo put everyone on notice when he unveiled the details of his budget plan, ordering school districts to settle on a new teacher evaluation system by Jan. 17, 2013, or lose their share of a proposed 4 percent increase in education spending.
He gave the Regents and the teachers’ union 30 days to resolve their lawsuit. It is either that, he said, or adopt an evaluation system that he would impose.
The sides are not as far apart as their public posture would indicate. Three weeks before Mr. Cuomo set the deadline, the union had already acceded to one of the state’s key demands. It agreed that most of the 60 points teachers could earn on subjective measurements should be based on classroom observations — something the state’s education commissioner, John B. King Jr., had been pushing for. Of the total score of 100, results from student testing would account for the other 40 points.
The union’s president, Richard C. Iannuzzi, sounded optimistic on Wednesday, saying in an interview that a settlement could be reached “in two or three days.” Dr. King, however, said there were many differences to be resolved.
“Conversations are ongoing,” he said, “but there’s a distance to travel.”
Last week, the federal Education Department warned New York that it could lose the $700 million in education financing it was awarded last year as part of the Race to the Top program if it did not adopt a system to evaluate teachers and principals statewide, one of the program’s requirements. By then, Dr. King had already suspended a smaller pot of federal money — $58 million in grants to help struggling schools in New York City, as well as nine other school districts in the state. The districts and their unions should have reached agreements on an evaluation process by Dec. 31, as the grants stipulated, but did not.
Mr. Cuomo’s hard-line message aims to resolve both problems, in part by applying renewed pressure on the Bloomberg administration and the president of the city teachers’ union, Michael Mulgrew, to go back to the negotiating table. Talks collapsed days before the deadline established by the grants, and the sides were so far apart, city officials said, that there was no point in further discussion.
At issue is the process by which teachers would be able to appeal a poor rating. The city proposed forming a three-person committee consisting of one representative from the city, one from the union and one who would be jointly selected by both to issue an advisory decision to the schools chancellor, who would then make the final call.
Mr. Mulgrew objected. He said the administration had forced teachers to go to court to have bad ratings reversed.
“They’re now using our objections to say we’re obstructionists,” he said. The appeals process is the only obstacle to a compromise, he said.
The appeals process will be a crucial issue for the union once the teacher evaluation standards go into effect. The new law scraps a “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” scale that has been used to judge teachers for decades and introduces a four-tiered rating: “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective” and “highly effective.” Teachers who are rated “ineffective” for two consecutive years could lose their jobs within 60 days. Under the current system, less than 3 percent of the city’s teachers are rated “unsatisfactory,” and it can take more than a year to fire a teacher.
The Legislature approved the new system unanimously in June 2010. Union and education officials stood side by side in Albany to celebrate their joint achievement, and Mr. Mulgrew traveled to Washington to testify on behalf of the state’s application for the Race to the Top money.
The disagreements that remain are, by and large, the subjects of the lawsuit by the state teachers’ union. For example, 40 points on the annual reviews for teachers statewide would come from students’ test scores. The union wants only half of those points to be based on standardized tests, but the Board of Regents, which sets state education policy, allowed districts to base all of the 40 points on standardized tests.
The law specifies that 20 points of the evaluation must be based on the state tests and the remaining 20 points on other exams, to be developed by local districts. The discrepancy between the Regents’ regulations and the legislation is the reason the union sued, Mr. Iannuzzi said.
“We never challenged the law. We only challenged their interpretation of the law,” he said.
Fernanda Santos covers New York City public education for The New York Times. Follow her on Twitter @fernandaNYT.

The Ugly Injustice Of The UFT-NYSUT-DOE Limited Partnership: Case of Steve Ostrin

On January 25, 9:30AM, the New York City Department of Education Article 75 appeal of Arbitrator Howard Edelman's decision to suspend Steve Ostrin for 6 months without pay was placed on the calendar of New York State Supreme Court Judge Saliann Scarpulla at 80 Centre Street, room 279, for argument. I was there to listen to DOE Attorney Cheryl Smith-Massena, Corporation Counsel Adam Collyer, representing the Department, and NYSUT Oriana Vigliotti , representing Steve.

Steve Ostrin, left; Howard Schorr, Brooklyn UFT, right

This case is unusual, not because Steve was alleged to have committed misconduct by approaching a girl in his class at Brooklyn Tech High School with sexually suggestive comments, being arrested, his family torn apart, and the Grand Jury acquitting him in a few minutes, but because no one, absolutely no one - including probable cause hearing officer Martin Scheinman - believed the accusing student, and because no one ever investigated the matter and found any facts in the allegations.

UFT Arthur Solomon and Howie Schorr

Yet Steve spent 6+ years sitting in the Brooklyn Rubber Room at 25 Chapel Street, 10th floor, waiting for his day at 3020-a, when he could testify about what happened. No one from the Department, the UFT, or NYSUT, helped him in any way for all those years get a resolution. Shockingly, Steve went to 65 Court Street in 2009 after his 3020-a had begun (Howard Edelman, arbitrator; Cheryl Smith Massena, DOE prosecutor attorney; Tim Taylor, NYSUT Attorney), and found a memorandum sent to Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern from Cheryl Smith and Theresa Europe in 2007 saying that the case was closed. Stopped. ended, caput, done. This memo was sent to 20+ people (not Steve, of course) and then buried.

Then Steve found it, made a copy, and brought it to his 3020-a to show Hearing Officer Howard Edelman that there was no case, and Cheryl Smith was making it all up.
Cheryl Smith-Massena, #7

At the oral argument today, Adam Collyer and Cheryl Smith argued that this case will set precedent if Judge Scarpulla allows Edelman's decision to stand, and she does not vacate the decision of suspension without pay for 6 months in favor of Steve's termination. Adam talked about "the investigation" that "proved" Steve was a sexual predator.

Folks, this is fraud on the Court. Mr. Collyer knew there was no substantiation of any charges.

Scarpulla agreed that Steve Ostrin was "despicable" for what he did and the penalty handed down by Edelman was too low. She said that if the collective bargaining agreement allowed decisions to be made by Judges rather than Arbitrators, she would have made a much harsher decision. But, she said, the collective bargaining agreement gave the power of decision in 3020-a to arbitrators, and she could not vacate an arbitrator's decision. (She did, though, in the case of Beverly Riley,
New York State Supreme Court Index Number 100517/2010, overturning a decision of termination as "shocking to the conscience"). No one brought up the Theresa Europe/Cheryl Smith memo, not even NYSUT Attorney Oriana Vigliotti, as this memo is embarassing for all sides. The punchline is this: Steve is RETIRED.

The Court cant touch Steve, and Scarpulla asked why she has this case at all.

From Steve to his former Rubber Roomers:
"I'm a NYC teacher,for 23yrs,the last 6 in the infamous "rubber room". I'm an award winning,nationally recognized teacher and in 2004 was voted "Teacher of the Year". Susan Edelman's article [see below - Editor] is deliberately misleading. The facts are that the document that is displayed in the picture(which was not addressed) is a memo that was promulgated by the Administrative Trial Unit(ATU) of the DOE,dated January 19,2007, that found the allegations against me were" unsubstantiated" and the Office of Legal Services was" closing the case." In fact the DOE had me slated to return to my school shortly after the "Memo" was generated. However, within months of this FACT I was charged with the very same allegations that I was arrested for and ultimately acquitted, in February 2006. Interestingly, this article fails to address any of these FACTS and instead chooses to focus on issues of conjecture and falsehood. We who teach,and who truly cherish the magic that takes place in our classrooms,do so,not for financial reward but for the love of helping and molding the future of our great nation. To the NY POST: to advance your own agenda(to sell papers) with no regard to truth and integrity is a sad commentary on your profession. If teachers were so ill prepared as this article demonstrates we would be deemed incompetent and sent to the "rubber room". For all the hard working professionals and for my comrades who have endured the horrors of the "rubber rooms",I salute you. Respectfully,Steve Ostrin.

 For everyone who missed my first article on Steve's case, I'm re-posting it:

Steve Ostrin And The NYC Rubber Room Scam

The Story of Steve Ostrin And The Violation Of His Due Process Rights By The NYC Department of Education , the UFT, and NYSUT

by Betsy Combier, Editor,
Steve Ostrin with the Eric Nadelstern/Cheryl Smith/Theresa Europe memo

From Betsy Combier: 

I have known Steve for more than four years, as an investigative reporter looking into the false claims and defamation by Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg of tenured teachers thrown into the "rubber room". Steve's rubber room for almost six years was 25 Chapel Street in Brooklyn New York, 10th Floor. The only reason he was there that long was the refusal of the UFT, NYSUT, and the DOE to fix the errors made in falsely accusing him of sexual harassment of a student. He is an innocent man painted with the wrong colors by the New York Post and the New York City Department of Education. Joel Klein, former CEO of the NYC DOE now works for the POST. Now that he is appealing the decision of arbitrator Howard Edelman to suspend him without pay for six months (NYSUT is representing him in Manhattan Supreme Court, he filed a 7511 appeal in Brooklyn pro se that NYSUT told him to drop) and Cathie Black filed an Appeal against the Edelman decision hoping the Court will decide to vacate the Edelman decision so that Steve will be terminated. I believe that this story will be big news. 

Steve's case will show the world how the NYC DOE, UFT, and NYSUT threw thousands of tenured personnel into unemployment, ATR status, resignation and settlements without Just Cause. I, for one, will be documenting the process, and how all three groups are trying desperately to support their unsupportable actions in this case. All three groups named above made very serious errors which created this perfect storm of injustice.

On January 30, 2011, NYPOST reporter Sue Edelman wrote an article called"Teach Untouchable" concerning the case of former rubber roomer Steve Ostrin. I met with Sue and Steve on January 25, 2011 at Steve's request, and discussed the mess that the NYC DOE made in this matter. Steve gave Sue the "smoking gun" memo sent from Theresa Europe to former DOE official Eric Nadelstern who resigned last week, (is there a connection between his resignation and this case??) that you see Steve holding in the picture above. Steve also gave her a copy of his grievance when the DOE would not release him from the rubber room after all charges were dropped against him in 2007, he gave her the information that there was no substantiation of the charges by SCI - nor was there an investigation at all - and Steve was acquitted at the criminal trial by a jury. The NY POST chose to ignore all the facts in favor of Steve's innocence and go with the DOE in defaming Steve once again. I see the hands of Joel Klein in this, and I look forward to a final resolution of the terrible process known as "rubberization" of tenured teachers now that NYSUT has taken on the representation of Steve in NYC Supreme Court against the Black petition.

How can I say such things? I worked as a UFT rep. for three years, hired part-time by Randi Weingarten to help her find out what was going on in public schools, assist teachers who needed advice on what to do in times of trouble, and visit the temporary re-assignment centers or "rubber rooms" to talk with the people there and find out what their cases were all about. I did my job, not knowing that they - the UFT now headed by Michael Mulgrew - did NOT want someone like me, an investigative reporter, looking into re-assigned NYC personnel, because the UFT is doing nothing to help its members, just like the DOE is throwing tenured people into the garbage. 

In fact, under Bloomberg, the garbage can was at first not large enough to handle all the people principals were allowed, under color of law/rule/DOE regualtions, to throw away. So, large (and 1 small) room(s) were rented or made available to the garbage teachers and these rooms became the holding pens of allegedly guilty people. Tenured teachers get "due process", or 3020 trial, an arbitration hearing 3020-a. In NYC no one gets to assist in choosing the single arbitrator who decides a case. You get the person supposedly randomly chosen to arbitrate the case that is next in line. At present there is at least one lawsuit in federal court and many in State Court on this topic, and there will be more. 

As an advocate for rights, I jumped into the mud of the NYC DOE "rubberization process" as I call it, and found that the denial of rights is astonishing. Believe me, I asked why many times at the UFT, and I was told they didn't need me anymore in July, 2010. That's ok, because now I can write about what REALLY happened over the last 9 years under Mayor Bloomberg, and how the UFT, NYSUT and the NYC DOE all worked as a team in making thousands of people sick with emotional distress, without housing, medical benefits, or jobs of any kind. Not everyone that went through the rubber room ringer is innocent, but many are, and my effort to expose this disaster with my website, blog, and my voice at the PEP Sept 2007, is for them, and all of us - our children, our way of life, and our future.

I met Steve at his rubber room, 25 Chapel Street early in 2007, and have followed his case ever since. In sum, his case is a matter of the DOE wanting a diversion from media exposure of the misconduct of Principal Lee McCaskill of Brooklyn Technical High School, and one of the most "honored" DOE officials, Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina. The NYC DOE picked a very popular teacher to condemn to the garbage as a way of nullifying the media attacks on MacCaskill. The police arrested Steve in March 2005, he was put in prison, given a criminal trial, and his family almost dissolved while he sat for almost six years in the holding pen/garbage can/rubber room at 25 Chapel Street, 10th floor, Brooklyn N.Y. and had the public pay his salary. No investigation ever proved he was guilty at all, no jury or District Attorney ever believed the accusations of the girl who complained about his behavior, and by all accounts Steve was on his way to being the biggest mistake the NYC DOE ever made, with the UFT approval. Until the DOE "Gotcha Squad" dug up arbitrator Howard Edelman and Attorney Timothy Taylor and put Steve on trial at 51 Chambers Street where the Administrative Trial Unit (ATU) conducts the 3020-a arbitrations for tenured teachers. I have sat in hearings when asked to observe, for almost 8 years, and I can tell you that the "due process" is a sham. More about this in another article.

After no investigation took place because no one believed that Grace Olamijulo was telling the truth - as well as her copycat colleague JH, who also got money from the City for making an accusation against Steve and after the Smith/Europe/Nadelstern "smoking gun" memo showed that 3020-a Attorney Cheryl Smith was lying about the charges (and Edelman was furious), Howard Edelman found Steve culpable of "...a single event in which a teacher [Ostrin] touched a student on her arm and made inappropriate comments" (Edelman award, p. 32). Edelman gave Steve the punishment of six months without pay (or medical benefits), to give a Solomonlike decision ("i.e. splitting the baby" and pleasing both the UFT and the DOE by not exonerating Steve, and thus making it look like the NYC DOE was wrongly spending public money for six years). The DOE spent more than $500,000 in this one case, to prove that Grace was right. So why was there no investigation?

Cathie Black, the new CEO of the NYC DOE, has filed a 7511 Appeal of 3020-a arbitrator Howard Edelman's decision to suspend Steve for six months without pay, she wants him terminated despite the lack of any investigation and the DA, SCI and the DOE finding the girl, Grace, not credible. Steve filed a 7511 in Brooklyn Supreme Court two days earlier, pro se (representing himself), Index No. 690/11. NYSUT Chief Claude Hersh told Steve to withdraw this petition in order for NYSUT to represent him in Manhattan against Black. 
Below, you will hear from me about the "facts" in this case. Keep in mind while you decide for yourself what the "facts" really are, that the UFT did nothing to help Steve throughout this ordeal that almost cost him his marriage and certainly cost him his career and his well-being for six years. What the UFT and NYSUT should have done is, when all charges were dropped in 2007 and all parties found the girl to be incredible, is put Steve back in his teaching position. No one did this because, I think, all parties hate to admit error, and now the battle is on. See my blog, NYC Rubber Room Reporter, for more stories on this.

The real story of the Rubber Room saga of Steve Ostrin

The real story of Steve Ostrin is based upon the fact that no one believed he sexually abused any child at any time. Grace and Julie were two young women who saw an opportunity to make some money, and the City complied, because their investigators were looking into Brooklyn Tech Principal Lee McCaskill and his associate, Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina, and they needed to divert public attention away from these two people - see links below. So far there is no proof that the DOE paid either girl to lie, but I'm still looking for that smoking canon. I've seen this (bribing, "convincing" kids to lie to get a teacher out of his or her position) before....sadly, many times.

One who is not sure what is going on in NYC education should start, I think, with Michael Cardozo's letter sent to the Justice Department in 2003 that argued for a removal of the right to vote for a school board in New York City. See Michael Cardozo's letter asking Mr. Rich at the U.S. Department of Justice and then read the reasons for the removal of the right to vote in a long report: "Editorial: The New York City Department of Education is a Sham and Mike Bloomberg is the Flim-Flam Man."

After Mike Bloomberg became Mayor and took control of the public school system in 2002, he spoke often about his desire to be "The Education Mayor", the person who turned all public schools into successful mini-businesses. In this business model, teachers become workers who are easily and necessarily replaced whenever his or her performance is, according to the supervisor, "not perfect". Soon, principals and superintendents had the right to hire and/or fire anyone, at any time. Tenure, with the promise of due process for all who hold this status, was technically over.

To prove to his followers he could do whatever he promised, Mike had to get rid of "dead wood", as in senior teachers who didnt want to spend every day teaching to a test, and then testing for the test; as in senior teachers whose salary was $100,000+ ...when two younger teachers could be paid for that price; as in tenured teachers who had cancer or some debillitating injury that had to take time away from their jobs; and so on.

Principals began to throw teachers out of their positions quickly and for no reason, or for a reason that would have incurred only a counseling memo or letter to file in previous years. For example, if you were a caring teacher and a student was crying and you gave them a hug, you became a "sexual pervert" and were removed from your job; if a student made an effort to do well and you were so happy that you tapped the student on the shoulder and said "well done!" you were, and still are, arrested for corporal punishment and led out of the school in handcuffs, in front of your students and reporters from the New York Post or Daily News, called ahead of time to get the picture. Who replaces you? A substitute teacher, someone who probably cannot teach the curriculum.

Where did the miscreant teacher go, while the NYC DOE "proved" his or her "guilt"? The 'rubber room' or re-assignment center. In 2007 there were seven large rooms in all boroughs - Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Harlem, Bronx, Washington Heights, Brooklyn; then, in 2008 another, small room was opened, also in Brooklyn (355 Park Place, basement). This was, in my opinion, a huge error. When 100+ adults are in a room every day and are told to sit and not talk to anyone about his or her case, that is exactly what the conversations will be about. And I was the UFT "rubber room girl" hired part-time by Randi Weingarten to listen, and to find out what was going on, and try to do something about it. I kept complaining about the situation but stayed 3 years, until the rooms were closed.

The other factor that plays into understanding how the rubber rooms were opened and stayed open until July 2010 is, principals were told by hire-ups to get rid of anyone who blew the whistle on school finances, corruption, violations of law, etc., and they - the "higher-ups" and their 'helpers' - would receive immunity from prosecution. In other words, if the administrators played their parts well, and got rid of anyone who did not meet the corporate criteria, no one would be able to hold them accountable for anything. The Corporation Counsel protects all of these people until there is some exposure of what they did. Then, the person "resigns" (and is moved to another job). "politically connected" UFT reps get the same indemnification and movement to a new position within the UFT. Take Burt Sacks, for example, who "resign" as Deputy Chancellor under Harold Levy and was immediately picked up by the UFT as "special advisor" to Randi Weingarten. HMMMM.

It was in this environment of terror, destruction of innocent lives, and lies that the case of Steve Ostrin began, and circumstances made this case a perfect storm of injustice.

The school where Steve Ostrin taught for 18 years and where he was considered one of the "best teachers ever", Brooklyn Technical High School,or "Brooklyn Tech", is one of the Specialized High Schools of New York City. You can get in if you score high enough on the SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test). Lee McCaskill, the Principal of Brooklyn Tech in 2004, felt uncomfortable. He and Steve had a 'contentious' relationship, and he, McCaskill, was beginning to worry that his cover would be blown. 
Principal McCaskill with some of his students
McCaskill had made a deal with then Deputy Chancellor (former District 15 Superintendent Carmen Farina) to put his daughter into a highly regarded public school in D15, even though McCaskill lived in New Jersey. This is against the law in New York State. Mrs. McCaskill also worked for the NYC DOE at Boys and Girls High School, a school in Brooklyn, but she resigned.

When the investigation into Lee McCaskill started heating up, the NYC DOE decided it was time to delay and obstruct the public's view of the crimes of Lee McCaskill and Carmen Farina, one of their "best" administrators (she brought in and supported Diana Lam):

B'KLYN TECH'S CRASS WARFARE. Principal, teachers feud at elite high school

WAVES OF TURMOIL are threatening to undermine the once-impeccable reputation of Brooklyn Technical High School - one of the city's most prestigious public schools.

Brooklyn Tech's tradition of excellence already has been sullied from a long-running battle between many respected teachers and Principal Lee McCaskill.

But the war inside the Fort Greene school is boiling over now with public charges of crass behavior, censorship, harassment and questionable management decisions.

Teachers have fled to other respected schools. Parents are trying to figure out what to believe. And perhaps most unsettling, Brooklyn Tech's students say they feel the tension.

A senior, who asked to be identified only as Eric, said he witnessed Assistant Principal Tracy Atkins-Zoughlami engage in a screaming match with two deans in the hallway.

"It was disturbing and unprofessional," the 17-year-old said. The student also claimed McCaskill once called a group of media students "dumb-asses."

McCaskill's detractors have no shortage of complaints about him and the school where he has worked since the late 1980s.

Brooklyn Tech has not published a student newspaper in more than a year because McCaskill had so heavily censored it - once destroying 4,000 copies - that no teacher will serve as an adviser, instructors charged.

For the last two months, 32 new computers have sat covered in plastic, unused because the room isn't properly wired.

The school radio room is packed with outdated equipment and has been shut down for 20 years even though a teacher secured a $10,000 grant. Teachers want to know what happened to that money.

Many instructors also claim McCaskill rules with an iron fist - often targeting outspoken veterans and treating students like prisoners instead of prodigies.

But Education Department brass insist McCaskill is maintaining excellence at the school and adamantly support him.

Deputy Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina called the charges a "union ploy to pick on a particular principal who exercises his right" to give teachers unfavorable reviews. "He does what he feels like he needs to do to make the teachers the best possible," Farina said.

Education Department officials promised a student paper would be up and running by next year. They vowed to send in engineers to fix the computer room and said the radio equipment is owned by WNYE.

Since being founded nearly 90 years ago, Brooklyn Tech has turned out Nobel Prize laureates, congressional leaders, billionaire entrepreneurs, corporate executives and noted scientists, engineers and architects.

It remains one of the city's most difficult schools to get into, enrolling about 4,500 students and boasting a 95% graduation rate.

But Brooklyn Tech traditionally has trailed behind Manhattan's Stuyvesant High School and the Bronx High School of Science in terms of popularity among top students, said Pamela Wheaton of Advocates for Children.

"When parents choose a school like Brooklyn Tech, they choose the name, not the principal," Wheaton said.

McCaskill could not be reached for comment because he was in North Carolina last week for the funeral of his nephew, who was killed in Iraq.

The most recent edition of the teachers union's newspaper included a supercritical article about him and the school, referring to it as Brooklyn "wreck." It marked the latest - and harshest - assault on McCaskill.

Just three years ago, he was accused of sending obscene E-mails to teachers. A city investigation concluded that some of the messages had been sent by his brother and others seemed to be authored by a hacker.

The allegations were among a long list of accusations against McCaskill over the last decade, including playing favorites with job assignments and faking timecards for friends.

In the last four years, a third of Brooklyn Tech's nearly 40-teacher English Department has left, according to English teacher Daniel Baldwin. "There used to be an almost cultish devotion to teaching at Tech," he said. "Teachers would come here and they wouldn't leave. Now there is a revolving door."

But Jean Claude Bizard, the local instructional supervisor, attributed the turnover to retirements - and backed McCaskill.

"Tech has students who are demanding and parents who expect the best from teachers," he said. "So he has to have high standards and quite frankly some teachers can't handle it."

The parents association vice president, Teresa Mule, also defended McCaskill. "The principal's motto is, 'If things aren't done the right way, they aren't done,' . . . and that is a positive thing," she said.

Yet several well-regarded city schools have been thrilled to hire Brooklyn Tech's castoffs.

In a particularly notable case, veteran teacher Todd Friedman took a job at Midwood High School after McCaskill barred him from teaching the book "Continental Drift" in 2002. The book was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, but McCaskill called it sexually explicit and unacceptable.

Friedman is being honored this week with the New York Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Award for fighting McCaskill over the censorship.

"People don't generally want to leave a good school like Brooklyn Tech, but McCaskill and Tracy Atkins-Zoughlami are breaking the morale," Friedman said. "That's why many teachers have left."

The NYC DOE decided to go after popular teacher Steve Ostrin. On March 2, 2005, a student in Steve's class, Grace Olamijulo, accused Ostrin of making remarks to her that she thought were sexually harassing.

On March 4, 2005 Ostrin was removed from his school and sent to 131 Livingston Street and then to 25 Chapel Street in Brooklyn, where he remained until the rubber rooms were closed, July 2010. (He was then sent to another location to sit and await the arbitrator's decision in the 3020-a arbitration, which he received at the end of December 2010).

On Sunday March 20, 2005 detectives from the 88th precinct came to Steve's home, and in front of his wife and two small children arrested him for "endangering the welfare of a child and harassment in the second degree".

On February 10, 2006 Steve was acquitted of all charges after a trial by jury in criminal court. Lee McCaskill testified, then resigned later the same day because he was so bad a witness for the DOE that they - the Department - did not want MacCaskill on the stand again. Steve remained in the Brooklyn rubber room. No charges were brought by the NYC DOE until May 11, 2007, after Steve asked for Attorney fees for his paying of the attorneys in the criminal trial. This set off a firestorm because the NYC DOE did not want to pay Steve's legal costs and thus admit that they were in error.

On February 5, 2007 Steve was told to go to the Leon Goldstein High School For Sciences, as he was cleared. On February 6, 2007 counsel for NYSUT (the legal arm of the UFT) received an email from Theresa Europe, Attorney of the Administrative Trials Unit or "Gotcha Squad", saying that the ATU was not going forward with charges, and Steve was no longer on the ineligible list. He filed a grievance (2/15/07) based upon Article 21G(4) of the DOE/UFT contract that states:

...the employee will be restored to service no later than 6 months from the date of his/her removal unless 3020a charges have been preferred against the employee (remember, none had been filed). Yet Marcel Kshensky denied the grievance, the very same Marcel Kshensky who is currently being sued in Federal Court for racial discrimination. (See Marcel Kshensky)

Kshensky denied the grievance, saying that there was an internal investigation being conducted by the DOE - but there was no investigation. (April 17, 2007)

On May 8, 2008, Steve was brought to a probable cause hearing with Arbitrator Martin Scheinman. Scheinman ruled that Steve could not be removed from payroll because 

"...Probable cause cannot be established where it is based upon an alleged felony committed on school property or while in the performance of teaching duties as to which a criminal court have ruled Respondent not guilty."....Respondent was not found guilty of criminal charges that were based upon the very same factual allegations set forth in the Specifications against Respondent and on which the Department bases its probable cause request."

Again, where is the UFT? Then, on June 19, 2009, Steve Ostrin went to 65 Court street on a tip and looked at his personnel file, where he found a memo from Cheryl Smith for Theresa Europe sent to former NYC DOE official Eric Nadelstern (he "resigned" in January 2011), closing the case against Steven Ostrin. The memo also states that the Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) concluded that "the allegations were unsubstantiated."

The matter was referred to the ATU, who, according to Theresa Europe, were closing the case. Lee McCaskill resigned his position in order to thwart criminal charges, and the investigators were very angry:

February 15, 2006
Investigator Rebukes City Schools Over Retirement of a Principal 

The special commissioner of investigation for the city school system rebuked the Department of Education yesterday for allowing the principal of Brooklyn Technical High School to retire days before the completion of an investigation into his daughter's improper enrollment in a Brooklyn elementary school.

The commissioner, Richard J. Condon, included the criticism in a report describing a web of deception by the principal, Lee D. McCaskill, and his wife, a teacher at another Brooklyn school, to hide the fact that they lived in New Jersey. 

The report said the couple had submitted a friend's Brooklyn address to get their daughter into the well-regarded Public School 29 in Cobble Hill without paying the tuition required of noncity residents. When faced with an investigation, Mr. Condon said, they gave contradictory testimony and submitted fake leases and other misleading documents to create the impression that they lived at the Brooklyn address.

Mr. Condon said it "was not prudent" for education officials "to enter into a settlement with Lee McCaskill before it could consider our findings." He said that since the Education Department did not wait for the investigation's results, "we can only note that McCaskill should be placed on the ineligible list and barred from future employment" in the city schools.

Mr. Condon wrote that he was forwarding his findings to the Brooklyn and Manhattan district attorneys for possible prosecution. He also recommended that Dr. McCaskill's wife, Cathy Furman McCaskill, be dismissed from her position as a teacher at Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn.

"All objective evidence and information examined in this investigation leads to the conclusion that the McCaskills deceived the D.O.E. and obtained more than three years of free education for their daughter, which is reserved for residents of New York City," Mr. Condon wrote. "Their sworn testimony concerning their living and commuting arrangements between the two addresses is, in part, contradictory, and, as a general matter, incredible and false."

Department of Education officials said Mrs. McCaskill had been reassigned to a regional office and that the department would move to fire her. They defended the agreement with Dr. McCaskill under which he was allowed to retire and pay the city $19,441 for four years of tuition, saying that his swift removal from the school was best for Brooklyn Tech, where a successor has already been named. 

"The school has been in a lot of turmoil because of this principal, and we are looking at a process that could stretch on for months and could thereby cause a great deal of disruption in the school," said David Cantor, a department spokesman. "We felt that the situation was just too volatile to let this happen."

Neither of the McCaskills returned calls seeking comment, and a man who answered the telephone at their home yesterday said he did not wish to speak with reporters. A lawyer from the city principals' union, who represented both Dr. McCaskill and Mrs. McCaskill during the investigation, declined to comment through a union spokesman.

Dr. McCaskill is still being paid $125,282 because he is using up accrued vacation time, officials said. Under the agreement with the Education Department, he will be able to use his accrued sick leave, as long as he produces documentation of a medical condition. The sick leave will run out in August, officials said, at which point his retirement will begin. Dr. McCaskill, who is 49, will not receive his pension for several years. 

In recent years, Dr. McCaskill's management style at Brooklyn Tech, the largest of the city's prestigious specialized high schools, has led to intense and in some cases well-publicized battles with teachers. They complained that he routinely canceled special trips and programs and that he retaliated against critics by giving out unfavorable performance ratings. 

Randi Weingarten, president of the city teachers' union, went to the Department of Education last spring to complain about what she described as Dr. McCaskill's pervasive practice of intimidating and punishing teachers.

Until the last few days, the Department of Education had stood behind Dr. McCaskill. Last week, when the department announced the agreement that he would retire, Carmen Fariña, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning, praised his leadership of Brooklyn Tech, telling reporters: "I wish him well. I think he's done a lot of good in that school." 

Mr. Condon's investigation started in October, after the department's general counsel informed him of rumors that the McCaskills' daughter was improperly attending P.S. 29. It is a coveted school where Ms. Fariña herself taught for 22 years and sent her own daughters. Investigators found that while the school listed the family as living at 606 Hancock Street in Brooklyn, voting and vehicle registration records showed they live in Piscataway, N.J. 

The Brooklyn address is the residence of Robin Kelly Sheares, a close family friend who is a lawyer. P.S. 29 is not the zoned school for that address, but its principal told investigators she had given Dr. McCaskill a variance as a "professional courtesy," believing he lived in the city. 

The investigators also observed the family's morning commute, watching as a green Ford registered to Mrs. McCaskill made its way from Piscataway through Perth Amboy, N.J., and Staten Island, traveling to Brooklyn over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Once in Brooklyn, they found, a girl with a blue book bag was dropped off at Ms. Sheares' home or at the home of another nearby friend, who would drop the girl off at P.S. 29. 

Asked where he lived, Dr. McCaskill told investigators that he had "both a Brooklyn and a New Jersey address," the report said. He said he rented a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn from Ms. Sheares, where his wife and daughter stayed during the week and where he stayed "off and on during the week."

Mrs. McCaskill, in what the report described as a "remarkable contrast to her husband's testimony," told investigators that Dr. McCaskill spent most weeknights in Piscataway.

Asked for evidence of his Brooklyn residency, Dr. McCaskill provided investigators with leases indicating that Mrs. McCaskill rented a Brooklyn apartment from Ms. Sheares for $200 a month, starting in October 2001. But the leases, investigators found, were ostensibly signed years before a 2004 copyright on the lease forms. 

Mr. Condon referred the case of Ms. Sheares, who was also questioned and had signed the leases, to the grievance committee of the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court and the state court system's ethics commission. Ms. Sheares could not be reached for comment.


Nevertheless, Cheryl Smith, attorney for the DOE, and Theresa Europe at the ATU served 3020-a charges against Ostrin and pursued his termination with Arbitrator Howard Edelman two years AFTER the memo proved that the investigators, the DOE, and the ATU had found the charges "unsubstantiated".

Throughout, Steve Ostrin has denied that he made any sexual comment to any student at any time.

When Steve got the opinion of Edelman, he decided to appeal to the New York State Supreme Court, as he felt it was wrong of Edelman to remove him from his salary for six months based upon unsubstantiated charges that were never investigated. He filed his appeal and got the Index number on January 11, then served and filed the Verified Petition in Kings County, Brooklyn, on January 25, 2011. Cathie Black filed an appeal in New York State Supreme Court on January 13, and served a Verified Petition on NYSUT on January 27, 2011. The DOE wants Steve to be terminated. NYSUT has taken on the appeal.

No one knows what the war of the titans will bring as far as resolution to this matter, but I do know for sure that when Steve and I and Sue Edelman from the New York Post had lunch on January 25, 2011, and a picture was taken of Steve holding the Nadelstern memo, that Sue Edelman knew there was never an investigation, the District Attorney did not find the girl, Grace, to be credible, that SCI found the charges to be unsubstantiated, that a jury in a criminal trial acquitted Steve, and no one believes that Steve is guilty as charged. No one, that is, except Cathie Black and Joel Klein and his new employer, the New York Post. Stay tuned, this will be good reading when the papers from both sides try to justify a man spending almost six years in a rubber room without Just Cause. NYSUT, the UFT and the DOE are guilty of creating this perfect storm of injustice.

Betsy Combier
I have written about my start in the investigation of the NYC DOE throwing educators out of their positions even when they have tenure, before, but here is a summary once again: in 2003 I was invited to be on-camera at a TV show produced by a friend to talk about Judicial corruption. When I arrived at the studio, another person about to be on the same program, teacher David Pakter, started talking with me. He told me that there were rooms for teachers who blew the whistle on their principal, and these rooms were called "rubber rooms". I knew that this was a good story. I started looking into "rubber rooms" from the point of view of a person to whom facts and rights must be honored above all else. The cases that I looked at then, and the cases I still look at now, dont have either. 

Teachers Are Easily Sabotaged When a Principal Wants To Get rid of Them: La Guardia High School and Brooklyn Technical High School (posted 2/28/2004)

Carmen Farina: Politics Wins With Her Appointment as Deputy Chancellor in New York City

The Arrogence of Immunity and the "Resignation" -or Retirement - of NYC DOE Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina

Former Deputy Chancellor Carmen Farina Retired Because of Her Complicity With the McCaskill Wrongdoing(posted 6/2006)

Marcel Kshensky 


Anonymous said...
What 'preponderence of evidence' did the arbitrator cite in his six-month suspension of Mr. Ostrin. I think that particular arbitrator has a habit of 'splitting the baby' in his decisions and seems incapable of ruling firmly on the side of an innocent teacher. Why hasn't NYSUT negotiated a confidential 'favorable settlement' for Mr. Ostrin that would give him some monetary compensation for pain and suffering and return him to a position of his choice in the DOE? If NYSUT can't get a favorable settlement in this case...when will they possibly get one?