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Why You Should Read the Fine Print in the New Teacher Project Report

By Eduwonkette — May 02, 2008 2 min read

From the coverage of the New Teacher Project’s report, “Mutual Benefits: New York City’s Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring,” you’d think that the 235 teachers excessed in 2006 and remaining in the “absent teacher reserve” in December 2007 are the worst of NYC’s worst teachers. Consider the National Center on Teacher Quality’s retelling: “They are also a generally substandard bunch, with a higher rate of unsatisfactory ratings on their personnel records than their more successful peers. For those content to do very little in life, why give up the life of an excessed teacher?” Or, as the NTP’s press release put it, “By September 2007, unselected excessed teachers from 2006 were six times as likely to have received a prior “Unsatisfactory” rating as other New York City teachers.”

So what percentage of these teachers have never received an Unsatisfactory rating? 81 percent. What percentage of these teachers have received an Unsatisfactory rating more than one time in their careers? Only 6 percent - about 14 teachers. I am not denying that these rates are higher than the NYC teacher population as a whole. They are. But the raw numbers provide much needed context, and we shouldn’t have to dig deep in the report to find them.

The issue of age discrimination in teacher hiring also remains unresolved by this report, despite eduwonk’s protest on this point. And there are good reasons to keep a close eye on age discrimination in NYC. With the advent of “Fair Student Funding,” principals have strong incentives to hire teachers that cost less. And as the age of principals continues to decline, we might expect that young principals will prefer to supervise younger teachers.

To be sure, the NTP report provides evidence that experienced teachers are somewhat less engaged in the job seeking process than inexperienced teachers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide enough evidence to convince me that previous teacher ratings and job seeking patterns can fully explain the pattern exhibited in the graph below. The blue bars show the experience levels of the pool of teachers excessed in 2006, while the red bars show the experience levels of teachers who remained unplaced in December 2007.

Because of seniority rules, 44% of teachers excessed in 2006 had 0-3 years experience, while 22% of teachers in this pool had 13+ years of experience. Of the 235 teachers who remained unplaced as of December 2007, only 25% of these teachers had 0-3 years of experience, while 42% had 13+ years of experience. (All numbers are taken from the NTP report, though it wisely never put these two sets of numbers in a figure together.)

My point is not that we should preserve the current staffing rule, or that we should turn back the clock - mutual consent is an important principle. The DOE and UFT need to strike a deal, but first we need to understand the nature of the problem. Framing these teachers as a uniform bunch of incompetent louts does little to advance this understanding.

Update: The New Teacher Project’s Tim Daly comments below.

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