Research, analysis and policy recommendations from the UFT

Attrition from New York City schools by teachers and other professional staff is on the rise again, after a slowdown following the Great Recession. Starting teachers left at higher rates over the 2014–15 school year. And resignations at all experience levels are increasing. They have become the principal reason that teachers and pedagogues leave the system, far surpassing retirement, which was once the principal cause.

For years the charter school sector in New York City has ignored its moral and legal duty to enroll a representative segment of the neediest students in New York City. Six years later, charters have still not met this obligation, continuing to enroll a far smaller percentage of English Language learners, special education and other categories of needy students than the public schools in their neighborhoods.

Unlike state achievement tests, which can change from year to year and are open to political influences, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), administered by the U.S. Department of Education, is a continuing, nationally representative test that has remained essentially the same since it began in 1969.

Newer teachers are a growing share of the workforce. However, there continues to be churn, as 35 percent of new teachers leave the system within their first five years. Over the last several years teachers in high schools have represented a disproportionately large share of new teacher attrition.

The charts in this document show how many of the city’s highest need students are enrolled in each district and charter school in each of the city’s Community School Districts. The data show that more than three-quarters of the charters serve students below the average district need.

The charts show the average percentages of English language learners; total special education students; special education students in self-contained classrooms; and students in temporary housing in charter and traditional public elementary and K-8 schools in the city’s Community School Districts. The data show that elementary and K-8 charters in 23 of the 25 districts where they are located are serving fewer ELLs, students with disabilities, special education students in self-contained classrooms and students in temporary housing.

Many charter schools, in particular the larger chains, suspend students at rates well in excess of their home-district averages. The tables compare suspension rates of elementary, middle and high school charters located in each of the 32 school districts with their district averages. The numbers are for 2011-12, the most recent available.

The charts compare charters and traditional public schools sharing school buildings on indicators of student need. The data show co-located charters serve fewer ELLs, students with disabilities, special education students in self-contained classrooms and students in temporary housing.

In late November 2013, United Federation of Teachers researchers sent a 50-question survey to 2,510 New York City public school teachers selected at random. The aims were to learn more about their working lives, the learning conditions in their schools and their views on the many reforms that are being done in their names or tried out on them.

New York City should embark next September on a long-term initiative to lower class size in the public schools to no more than 15 students in kindergarten through third grade. A UFT analysis shows that the administration could introduce it this fall in 100 schools — generally in the city’s poorest communities — that now have spare classroom space.

The UFT forecasts that there will be some improvement over last year in the percentages meeting standards on state tests, since teachers and students were more familiar with the types of questions and because curriculum based on the Common Core was in wider circulation.

The UFT believes the New York State Legislature, the New York City Department of Education and the existing group of Specialized High Schools can enact a series of changes to the admissions process that will extend opportunities across the city to a larger pool of deserving students, removing their barriers to access.

Teacher hiring has picked up in New York City. But attrition of teachers and other pedagogues at all levels of experience also increased in the 2012-13 school year, to more than 5,300, or 6.4 percent of the workforce, mainly through resignations and retirements. Overall, the workforce is becoming more veteran, due to high degrees of churn at the entry level, and increasing resignations of experienced staffers. Absent improved working conditions and salaries, the pace of attrition is likely to build. Unemployment is finally dropping, job creation has picked up, and economic growth is running at an annualized 3.6 percent, so teachers have more options. Angered by the overemphasis on testing and punitive accountability, their loyalty to the city is strained.

As charter school proponents go to Albany this week to plead their case, let's examine the realities behind their claims of stretched resources, unique student demand and stellar academic results.

The NYC Community Schools Coalition, a group of diverse partners that have come together to have a positive impact on city schools, have embraced the community schools model. Working together with parents, teachers, community members and elected officials, they want to empower school communities to reinvent themselves as community “hubs” that can provide services that efficiently and effectively reduce barriers to learning and improve student outcomes. Coalition members, including the UFT, the Partnership for New York City, Trinity Wall Street and the Children’s Aid Society, helped shape this position paper in an effort to elucidate what the community schools model is all about.

The following recommendations for reforms, to be submitted to the state Legislature, are the product of deliberations of the UFT School Governance Committee, a multi‐partisan committee made up of a diverse cross‐section of members representing all titles, boroughs and caucuses that met between Dec. 2012 and March 2013. The recommendations were adopted unanimously by the committee at its meeting on March 7, 2013.

New York City hired more new teachers in 2011-12 than it had for the previous two school years, as the city allowed the Dept. of Education to replace departing teachers for the first time since the 2008 recession. But the rate of attrition has also increased. The economic recovery, slow though it has been, has made other jobs available, while the lack of a contract and the mayor’s persecution of teachers have taken a toll on working conditions and morale.

New York City had to hire more than 3,000 teachers last year, despite budget cuts, a hiring freeze on most titles, some 1780 available teachers in excess, and threats of layoffs by the mayor through much of the spring. Attrition explains the seeming paradox. The Department of Education must keep hiring because educators turn over so rapidly.

Our findings confirm that charter schools enroll a smaller percentage of special education students than do district schools. But more importantly, charter schools do not enroll the same kind of special ed students as the district schools.

While research has shown the city is attracting more highly-qualified teachers, the attrition data show many of those teachers move on after a few years. The data cannot tell us where they go, but other reports suggest they leave to teach in suburban schools, they take on administrative assignments, or they leave the profession after putting in a few years.

Despite the fact that New York’s charter school legislation prohibits discrimination in student admissions, it is now clear that New York City’s charter schools, as a group, are failing to serve a representative sample of the city’s public school children.

The proposals crafted here try to maintain what has worked – a very direct tie between the DOE and mayor — and at the same time correct what has not worked, by ensuring checks and balances throughout the school system.

Eliminating overcrowding and reducing class size are among the most critical elements in providing a quality education for New York City schoolchildren. Unfortunately, according to the latest available official data, thirty eight percent of public school students still attend schools in buildings that are overcrowded, and the vast majority of them attend classes that exceed state and national averages. Rather than being an issue of “pocket overcrowding”, this is a systemic problem that requires a systemic analysis and solution.

A Critique of The New Teacher Project Report “Mutual Benefits: New York City’s Shift to Mutual Consent in Teacher Hiring”
Staffing all schools with talented educators is best accomplished by helping those who are in classrooms now be the best they can be, supporting them as they master the craft and become lifelong professionals. While that is obvious to most educators it is not obvious to a management organization like The New Teacher Project, which focuses almost exclusively on getting rid of teachers they deem to be weak and trying to recruit new ones.

Under the state-approved Contracts for Excellence (C4E), New York City agreed to reduce average class size systemwide in the 2007-08 school year, with a special focus on high-needs, low-performing schools. While the system’s average class sizes did go down by a fraction, the averages mask disturbing patterns. Class sizes were almost as likely to increase as to decrease, including in the highest needs schools, and spending was no predictor of class size reduction.

In a series of public forums on high stakes testing this task force held throughout the city in December 2006 and January 2007, teachers, parents, students, elected officials and others with a stake in public education spoke out about the adverse affect the current high stakes testing culture is having on instruction and learning. While recognizing the importance of testing and assessment as an indicator of student progress and a valuable resource for guiding instruction, these forums showed that many members of the public are concerned about excessive testing as well as inappropriately linking the results of these tests to important decisions about a student's or a school's future.

Small schools often provide opportunities for teacher voice in a personalized, collegial, collaborative and professional work place. For parents and students, small schools provide another choice in the public school system. Nevertheless, the recent surge in small schools has caused serious problems.

New York City had to hire more than 9,000 new teachers for the 2003-04 school year alone, the equivalent of 11.5 percent of its 78,000-member teaching force. In fact, the city has hired almost that many new teachers every year since 1997.

Given the attacks on public education, the widespread frustration with the seemingly slow pace of reform, the focus on teacher competence and the public perception that teacher unions, despite proof to the contrary, oppose reform, the UFT established a committee to take a hard and often difficult look at the role the UFT must play in assuring teacher quality.

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