Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Does Reconstitution Work?

We're hearing a lot lately about the different restructurings that will be taking place at schools all across DC this summer -- specifically, faculty and staff at several schools will undergo reconstitution, meaning that everyone is fired and has to reapply for their jobs. The concept of reconstituting a school -- shutting it down and hiring all new employees for the next year -- was also discussed in a recent article in the NY Times. Reconstitution might seem to make a lot of sense -- it shakes up the school and provides a catalyst for change. But there are definitely problems. The article writes,

Randi Weingarten, president of one of the unions, the American Federation of Teachers, said Mr. Duncan’s focus on the worst schools was “the right strategy,” but added, “What I’ve raised with Arne is, wholesale firing of staffs, pretending that if you just close a school and open a new one it will solve all the problems — that’s the wrong way.”

Holy crap, I agree with Randi Weingarten.

My school underwent reconstitution last year, and I definitely do think that it has made an improvement in the quality of teaching and learning going on in our building. That said, my school has not made the kind of rapid turnaround that the article talks about. Like most comprehensive DC High Schools, my school is still chaotic and violent, and children are not performing as they should. I think a lot of that has to do with the leadership involved, at both the school and district levels. My principal does not do as much as she should to support teachers -- she's rarely in classrooms or the halls. For her part, Rhee does not seem to be effectively prodding her principals to adopt better practices. She mostly just seems to be firing principals over test scores.

While reconstitution can be helpful, it demands an incredibly strong and radical leader -- someone who is really willing and able to do things differently. Until we have such leaders in place, we're just shuffling around teachers, causing chaos for students. Unless our principals are highly effective, committed, and armed with clear visions, reconstitution will just be for show.


lodesterre said...

It has been interesting to watch all this talk about the reconstituted schools and the 90-day-plan. The one school where it has worked, Shaw, has a 15-to-1 ratio of students to teachers. God, if you can't succeed with that, regardless of the condition of your school, then get out. It sounds like your situation hasn't been as successful. I wonder how others have fared.

I don't think either route will be successful if they are not going to be backed up with the kind of support that Shaw received. A nice experiment would be to take the entire faculty of Shaw and send them over to Hart and see if they have the same success. One condition, give the Shaw team the same degree of support that Hart received - i.e. very little. According to Michael Moody, the well-paid consultant for DCPS, principals should be able to achieve success regardless of their circumstances.

I am all for reconstituting if it gives the effective teachers in that school an honest chance. But if they are lumped in with the burnt-outs and ineffective teachers than I think it is a waste. There is something to be said for the teacher who knows the school and the students they are dealing with and who may have strong inroads already in place but have lacked proper support to be effective except for a few.

Anonymous said...

Lodesterre mentions giving effective teachers a chance in reconstituted schools. On the surface that makes sense to me. However, I've seen too often where teachers appear to be very defensive and are not open to working with 'new' partners or in a 'new' environment. There's definitely some of the white/black issues that have been discussed on various teacher blogs that plays into this. I'd love to hear your (or anyone else's) suggestions for overcoming the seeming defensiveness so that effective teachers could stay at a reconstituted school and the school could move forward in a productive way.

Kat said...

There are definitely pluses and minuses to these plans.

As Anon said, mixing new in with old (which often also means mixing white in with black) has definite repercussions, as I've witnessed at my school this past year. It's a very dicey situation, because some black veterans use the race card as a reason to resist any and all reform measures. (Don't get me wrong -- some white veterans play other cards.)

Yet the wholesale laying off of staff has drawbacks as well, because you also eliminate "institutional memory" (which may not be such a bad thing in some cases...). Those administrative systems that regularly occur in a school, from key distribution to textbook collection practices, are gone as well, which leads to chaos. (Keep in mind that I have a whole new definition of "system" since working in DCPS. Heh.)

Sigh. I think I want to work in a bookstore.

Glenn Watson said...

Does reconstitution ignore tenure? Have DC teachers lost tenure now that they have no contract?

lodesterre said...

I think this is where assessment comes in handy. You assess each school, individually, the way you assess each child in your class individually. You tally up the strengths, make note of the weaknesses, reinforce the former and developing or changing the latter. It takes time and effort. You are right, Kat, there are some institutional memories that are better forgotten, but the healthy IMs need to be fostered and strengthened.

Has anyone here felt that their school was accurately assessed for the strengths and weaknesses in instruction? All we have to go on are those BAS, CAS and Stat9 tests. And we all know that is not always an accurate reflection of instruction.

Mr. Potter said...


Reconstitution means everyone has to reapply to work at that particular school, but (at least last year) all teachers were guaranteed a job somewhere in the system. It's called being excessed -- you're still employed, just not necessarily at the school you were at before. Which means that reconstitution really just shuffles teachers around.

Technically, we still do have a contract. We are still operating under the old contract -- with all of its strengths and weaknesses.

Toby said...

I knew some veteran teachers from some schools that were closed last school year. They reapplied to teach in a school that was reconstituted and very few of them were hired. One of them in fact told me that he put very little into his interview and was even hostile.
At the beginning of this year, my principal commented about getting some teachers from those closed or reconstituted schools. One came here and was totally awful. He didn't teach to the grade level standards, had older children color and basically do busy work. He just yelled at kids, said shut up, and appeared to be passing the time instead of teaching. The principal had him transferred out in the middle of the school year. Another did not do much better but is still here.
I know for a fact that some teachers who are excessed do not want to go and interview for a new school. Several of them told me as much. They just want 825 to place them.
I was excessed a while ago. It was traumatic when my school closed and I had to interview for a new school. I got hired after a few interviews because I'm good at what I do and my principal recognized that. I certainly was not going to wait for 825 to place me. Never once did I think a principal would want some fresh out of college chick over me, an experienced teacher. So my confidence came through. Yes, it's no fun to jump through the hoops and go on interviews, but my school closed and I couldn't stay depressed about that.

Anonymous said...

I really have a problem with reconstituting schools to pass them over to a charter organization. Especially in the case of Anacostia who is being given to Friendship. Has anyone read Friendship's stats? ZERO percent passing rate on AP tests, 40% proficient in reading, about a 65% graduation rate. They are no better than any public school, so what the heck?

Anonymous said...

But they are charter, and therefore by definition better. *rolls eyes*

Glenn Watson said...
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Glenn Watson said...
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Glenn Watson said...

Is'nt a 40% proficiecy in reading, and a 65% graduation rate better than average in DC?

Kat said...

"One of them in fact told me that he put very little into his interview and was even hostile."

Now there's an interview strategy...

I believe excessed teachers have a year to get rehired somewhere, after which they're released. (Can someone correct me on that?) Also, in Chicago, which has the same policy as DC, 8 of every 10 excessed teachers gets rehired. Even so, I am sure, as Toby relates, it's a harrowing experience.

But hey, if your competition takes the "unprepared and hostile" approach, your chances are likely better!

usereason said...

No, Kat, it was Rhee's proposal to release teachers who could not find a job after one year.

Currently, teachers are definitely given some type of employment in the district if they cannot find a teacher to hire them.

Rhee just came to my school this week and had a q&a with teachers. Someone asked her what would happen to excessed teachers, and she said they will definitely be placed somewhere in the fall if they do not find a placement themselves.

I question how that is possible unless the district "creates" work for people to do. Do other schools really have enough open positions to take in all of the excessed teachers?

Kings said...

Harry says, "Like most comprehensive DC High Schools, my school is still chaotic and violent, and children are not performing as they should. I think a lot of that has to do with the leadership involved, at both the school and district levels. My principal does not do as much as she should to support teachers "

Sounds logical, but remember, Rhee believes that student achievement is completely dependent on great teachers and great teachers alone. If you can't get those kids' scores up, you just haven't been trying hard enough and/or are not fit for the job and clearly don't have the right "mindset."

I don't believe that, but Rhee does and makes it very clear. She would say you're making excuses and invite you to teach in fairfax county. You know, you may actually be more competent and energetic than some of those old vets, but it doesn't matter, scores are scores and if you can't get them up - don't blame it on the principal or anything else - it's your fault.

And the student who stole from target -- that's your fault too.

Kat said...

Usereason, I'm guessing the district doesn't need to create work for excessed teachers because there are plenty of schools with high vacancy and turnover.

Even at my school, which is a "good" school (relative...always relative...), we had a couple vacancies in September and were in need of mid-year replacements.