Bill de Blasio

Mayor de Blasio's Plan to Fix the Schools: Humiliate All the Teachers. Fire None of Them.

A union-led plan to help struggling schools treats teachers like cattle.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio |||Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office
Photographer/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has an inspired plan to turnaround New York City's failing schools: First, humiliate all the teachers by making them publicly plead for their jobs before a union-run committee. Then keep them all on the payroll even if the committee decides they should be fired.

This plan is being tried at Boys and Girls High and Automotive High, two of the lowest-performing schools in New York City. All 130 professional staffers at these schools were required to reapply for their jobs at the end of the school year, no matter their track records. I'm sure the hardest-working and most talented staffers—and yes, even the worst schools have great teachers—appreciated being treated just the same as their underperforming colleagues.

If it were up to the principals to decide who goes or stays, they conceivably could have managed such a demoralizing dictate by firing the worst teachers with dignity and giving their talented staffers a perfunctory vote of approval. Not under the mayor's plan. That's because it's designed to give maximum control to the teachers' union. Every single teacher and administrator at Boys and Girls and Automotive High schools had to go through the humiliation of begging for their jobs before a 12-person board that included two parents and no less than six representatives from the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

"The more collaborative the efforts to improve these schools, the more likely it is that they will be successful," the UFT's general counsel, Adam Ross, told Capital New York, demonstrating how little he knows about what's likely to a make a school successful.

Of the 106 professionals at the two schools who submitted to appearing before the committee, 39 were allowed to keep their jobs.

So what will happen to the remaining 67? Since most of them have tenure, the city will first encourage them to apply for jobs at other New York City public schools. If they can't find principals that will take them, they'll enter what's called the Absent Teacher Reserve pool, meaning next year they'll sit at home doing nothing while still drawing a salary and benefits.

Here's an alternative approach that would actually improve schools while treating even lousy teachers with dignity: Put talented principals in charge of schools, give them a lot of leeway to run things, and then hold them accountable for what happens.

For an example of how this idea works, watch a recent Reason TV video I wrote and produced, "How to End Poverty in the South Bronx:"