UFT President on School Closings
January 26th, 2011
Declaring that the arrival of a new chancellor marks a good time to take stock of the school system, teachers union president Michael Mulgrew today criticized the city’s Department of Education for not focusing on teaching, for neglecting the most at-risk students and letting hubris and ideology guide too many decisions.
Much of his address at the Center for New York City Affairs focused on a favorite United Federation of Teachers theme under Mulgrew: the department’s closing of schools it deems unsuccessful. And the speech comes during school closing season, with the Panel for Educational Policy set to rubber stamp proposed school closings next week.
Last year the union and the NAACP filed a successful suit to stop the city from shutting schools. This year, in proposing another round of closures, the city has added more meetings and reports to comply with state law. This does not, though, satisfy Mulgrew, who charged that the shutting of schools penalizes those with the largest number of homeless students, English language learners and students who come in in the middle of the year.
He focused on DeWitt Clinton, one of the few remaining large high schools in the Bronx, which, according to Mulgrew, has seen a sharp increase in special ed students and a more than doubling of the number of homeless students. He predicted that “if the Department of Education does not intervene to help this schools and support them in these challenges,” it would eventually be slated for closure.
“We cannot afford -financially and otherwise — to give up on our schools at the first sign of any trouble,” he said.
Instead, he called on the department to set up a three-stage approach on troubled schools: first teasing out data that might indicate problems — such as a high absentee rate — and having the school devise a plan to correct it. If no progress was made, the department would provide assistance to the school. And if that still does not work, Mulgrew said, the school could be either taken over by the department in a kind of receivership or shut.
“We can begin to reorient the Department of Education to do the hard work of helping schools rather than just shutting them,” he said.
In his remarks and in the discussion with three reporters that followed, Mulgrew blamed the city for the teachers sitting idly in the Absent Teacher Reserve pool. The teachers, he said, could be placed in schools but “the Department of Education would rather rail against these teachers and use them as political pawns in these troubled economic times.”
Pressed by Clara Hemphill of Inside Schools on whether the teachers often refused interviews or were in the pool because they were not very good at their jobs, he conceded many teachers in the reserve feel angry and disrespected. Asked if he would support a buyout for any burnt-out teachers in the reserve just biding time until their pension, Mulgrew said, “I’ll sign on to any letter you want to send the mayor on that.”By Gail Robinson on January 26, 2011, 2:52 pm
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