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Teachers Union, DOE Clash Over New Firing Group

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Relations between the Bloomberg administration and the teachers union are on the rocks again, after the Department of Education announced Thursday a new team to go after bad teachers — or teachers the DOE says are bad.

But as NY1’s Michael Meenan explains in the following report, the teachers union says the DOE is just looking for scapegoats over some bad results for city schools on national tests.

Last April, it raised some eyebrows when United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten stood next to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, pledging her support for their efforts to shape up city schools.

Her mood was decidedly different Thursday, following word that the city has set up a special unit to find and fire incompetent teachers.

"Every hardworking teacher saw this article and said, ÎAm I next?’" she said.

The DOE says that last year out of about 55,000 teachers, only ten teachers were let go for poor performance. The mayor made no apologies for canning them.

"We're not going to allow teachers who can't teach to be at the front of the classroom," said Bloomberg.

Weingarten says she wants bad teachers out of schools too, and there are already systems in place to do that. She said the real reason the DOE let out word of this special unit was to distract attention from disappointing results for city kids on national math and reading tests announced on Thursday.

"Fourth grade math scores went up really well, but the other scores were flat,” said Weingarten. “What's the preemptive response? Blame the teachers. Start a gotcha unit. It’s wrong and the mayor and the chancellor should apologize to teachers."

Klein said these charges raised by Weingarten are totally groundless. He says city kids did really well on those national tests and he's got the results to prove it.

"This is very powerful,” said Klein. “We went up 12 points, the nation went up five."

But, as Weingarten pointed out, that was only in fourth grade math, with no appreciable gains in reading or math reading for fourth and eighth graders. Compared to their peers nationwide, city kids continue to lag. On state tests, city kids have made steady progress, with 65 percent on par in math, 56 percent in reading.

One former federal education official, a Klein critic, says the federal test is far more reliable.

"The results are consistent every time it's administered,” said NYU Professor Diane Ravitch. “And what it's shown is New York City's not kept pace in terms of its own performance from 2003-2007."

The city's black school kids did make some gains in closing a racial achievement gap, some good news in these national results.

Klein does admit lots more work needs to be done — something perhaps the teachers union agrees with him on.

- Michael Meenan
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