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Willful Blindness Official Pushing NYC's ATR Plan Has A History Of Giving A Pass to Bad Teachers



The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) is planning to move as many as 400 teachers out of the district’s Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) and into full-time classroom positions at schools this fall, regardless of whether those schools want to hire them.

Principals have had control over staffing at their schools since 2005, when the district officially adopted “mutual consent” hiring. That shift resulted in the creation of the Absent Teacher Reserve, which is comprised of teachers who were forced out of their jobs or lost them due to school closures, but have not found new positions.

UFT president Mike Mulgrew, Mayor Bill deBlasio & Chancellor Carmen Fariña at a press conference in 2014.

Thanks to NYCDOE’s contract with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), individuals in the ATR pool continue to receive full salary and benefits, even though nobody wants to hire them. According to data obtained by Chalkbeat, the district spent nearly $152 million last year to compensate ATR teachers.

District officials have been trying to shrink the size (and expense) of the ATR pool for years, leading some to wonder whether they would resort to forced placement to accomplish their goal. When New York City Council members posed that question directly to Chancellor Carmen Fariña in 2014, she emphatically stated: “There will be no forced placement of teachers.”

However, NYCDOE reneged on that promise last month when it was announced that principals will have until mid-October to fill vacancies at their schools, after which the district will place teachers from the ATR pool into any remaining openings.

The new policy has gotten an icy reception from principals and parent advocacy groups, who say the district is simply putting bad teachers back into classrooms. As evidence, they point to NYCDOE figures showing that a third of the teachers in the ATR pool ended up there due to legal or disciplinary problems and half have been there for two or more years.

“There is not one parent in New York City who would willingly accept one of these ATRs into their child’s classroom,” StudentsFirstNY Executive Director Jenny Sedlis said in a blog post on the ATR plan. “It is unconscionable to put the worst teachers into the classrooms of the neediest students.”

NYCDOE’s Absent Teacher Reserve by the numbers.

In an effort to allay those concerns, NYCDOE issued a statement noting that “DOE has discretion on which educators in the ATR pool are appropriate for long-term placement and may choose not to assign educators who have been disciplined in the past.” Nevertheless, the department has not explicitly ruled out the possibility that teachers with disciplinary records could be used to fill vacancies.

That fact is especially troubling when one considers that Randy Asher, the NYCDOE administrator overseeing the Absent Teacher Reserve plan, was accused of letting bad teachers run amok in his previous role as principal of Brooklyn Technical High School.

Randy Asher, who formerly served as principal of Brooklyn Tech High School, now oversees the Absent Teacher Reserve for NYCDOE.

Asher served as principal of Brooklyn Tech for nearly eleven years before assuming his current role in January. During that time, the elite public high school was racked by a series of sex scandals involving faculty members, including the widely-publicized case of Sean Shaynak, a Brooklyn Tech math teacher who victimized seven female students.

According to a lawsuit filed by the victims, Asher and his fellow Brooklyn Tech administrators knew about Shaynak’s sexually suggestive antics (such as the time he showed up to a school dance wearing a skimpy schoolgirl’s uniform), but did nothing to address them. For his part, Asher claimed he was unaware of Shaynak’s devious behavior, but was “horrified and disgusted at the allegations.”

NYCDOE eventually settled the victims’ lawsuit for $450,000 and Shaynak was sentenced to five years in prison.

Although Asher claimed he was unaware of Shaynak’s sexually inappropriate behavior, photos of Shaynak in drag appeared in the school’s yearbook.

In light of Asher’s history, it’s hard to see how the public can trust that officials will use their discretion to keep the least desirable ATR teachers out of the classroom. That’s why parents and community members should fight to prevent NYCDOE from implementing its forced placement plan and call on city leaders to solve the district’s ATR problem by demanding a phase-out in contract negotiations with UFT next year.

Pete became involved in education reform as a 2002 Teach For America corps member in New Orleans Public Schools and has worked in various capacities at Teach For America, KIPP, TNTP, and the Recovery School District. As a consultant, he developed teacher evaluation systems and served as a strategic advisor to school district leaders in Cleveland, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. He now writes about education policy and politics and lives in New Orleans.



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Dan McConnell

One perv is one too many, and he went to jail. Good thing that 2/3 of the qualifued, trained and experienced, degree-holding teachers waiting to work because of school closures and staff reductions aren’t the 1/3 behavior problems, and better we pay the 2/3 to work and try to expedite resolutions to the 1/3 conduct cases.

Peter Cunningham

Willful Blindness! @petercook gets graphic with New York’s “rubber room” staffing…

Andrew G. Biggs

Almost impossible to believe: $152 million spent in NY City on teachers who don’t /can’t teach.

Brandon Wright

Brandon Wright reposted this Article on

Gary Rubinstein

ATR is not A.K.A. rubber room and I think you know that. RR is where teachers await disciplinary hearings.


Jim Bartholomew

And people wonder why there are concerns about whether the “system” is operating at peak performance (or even close)….

Gary Rubinstein

@StudentsFirstNY Those add up to 125%


Gregory McGinity
Gregory McGinity

The STNY percentages aren’t cumulative. A single teacher could have been placed in the ATR pool for legal reasons AND been in the pool for five years.


ThinkingintheGray reposted this Article on

Citizen Stewart

Citizen Stewart liked this Article on



Explainer: Does AFT Really Have 1.7 Million Members? How The Union Uses Accounting Tricks To Inflate The Numbers



On Friday, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced its membership had risen to over 1.7 million members, surpassing the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to become the largest union in the AFL-CIO.

According to union officials, the milestone was reached last month when the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR), which represents the U.S. territory’s 40,000 teachers, voted to affiliate with AFT.

However, as Education Week pointed out, the pact concluded between AFT and AMPR comes with several caveats. To start, the agreement only establishes a three-year “trial affiliation,” after which the two unions will decide whether to extend their relationship. Plus, although AMPR teachers will be considered full AFT members during this trial period, they will initially pay $12/year in dues to the union – far less than members of AFT affiliates elsewhere.

AMPR got a good deal from AFT: all the benefits of membership at a fraction of the cost.

But AFT’s 1.7 million claim is dubious for a more fundamental reason: the union uses creative accounting when tallying its membership. For example, in AFT’s 2016 annual report to the U.S. Department of Labor, they claimed to have 1.54 million members in 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Guam, but a closer look reveals only 675,000 of those individuals were actual full dues-paying members. A significant portion of the rest belonged to a hodgepodge of special membership classes: one-half members (204,344), one-quarter members (93,047), one-eighth members (34,104), associate members (49,984), and laid-off/unpaid leave members (1,808).

Their count also included nearly 357,000 retiree members and approximately 128,000 members of affiliates – in Florida, Minnesota, Montana, New York, and North Dakota – that have merged with NEA.1

In short, as is often the case with AFT, there is a huge gap between their rhetoric and reality.

Read AFT’s 2016 DOL annual report:

  1. Note that these are self-reported numbers and therefore subject to AFT’s interpretation. In a piece in The 74 earlier this year, Mike Antonucci claimed, “more than 600,000 working AFT members belong to merged NEA/AFT local and state affiliates” in 2016. 
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Hey Big Spenders! A look at AFT & NEA Spending During The 2016 Election Cycle



After spending eight long years at odds with the Obama Administration, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and National Education Association (NEA) viewed the 2016 elections as an opportunity to reassert themselves within the Democratic Party and to regain a measure of influence over federal education policy. As a result, the two unions spent massive amounts to get Democrats elected to office, threw their weight behind Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, and closely coordinated their efforts with national Democratic Party officials.

It goes without saying that things did not work out as planned. While the two teachers unions spent tens of millions of dollars during the 2016 election cycle to get Clinton and other Democrats elected, in the end, they failed to deliver where it counts: the voting booth. As Greg Toppo at USA Today reported shortly after the elections, internal union figures revealed that one out of every three NEA members and one out of every five AFT members voted for Donald Trump.

AFT & NEA certainly never expected that Betsy DeVos would become U.S. Secretary of Education.

Nevertheless, it is worth taking measure of the size and scope AFT and NEA’s efforts to influence the recent elections because it makes clear that they are able to muster considerable resources to fight for their interests. According to campaign finance data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, AFT and NEA spent a combined total of $72,661,520 during the 2016 election cycle. Nearly three-quarters of that amount – $53,534,015 – came from NEA, while the balance ($19,127,505) was spent by AFT.1

Below, I’ve broken down that campaign finance data into four broad categories – contributions to candidates, ballot committees, party committees, and independent expenditure groups – and highlight some interesting facts along the way. You can also search through the data yourself using the search and sorting functions in the tables under each category. As noted above, the underlying campaign finance records come from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and can be accessed at their website,

Contributions to candidates

During the 2016 election cycle, AFT and NEA contributed more than $4.4 million to 332 candidates running for office across 47 states and District of Columbia. Over 85% of those candidates were Democrats and just over 70% of them were eventually elected.

Although three-quarters of their contributions went to candidates running for the U.S. House and Senate, the two unions spent sizable amounts on several gubernatorial races, including $475,000 to support John Gregg’s unsuccessful bid to replace Mike Pence in Indiana, $125,000 to support Gov. Kate Brown in Oregon’s special gubernatorial election, and $75,000 for Chris Koster’s failed campaign for governor in Missouri.

John Gregg, Kate Brown & Chris Koster

AFT and NEA also made plays in lower-profile races, such as Glenda Ritz’s failed bid for reelection as Indiana’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ritz made headlines back in 2012 for her surprise victory over incumbent Tony Bennett, whom she pilloried during the campaign for his support of the Common Core State Standards. Last year, the two teachers unions gave Ritz a combined total of $55,000 to her campaign.

Contributions to ballot committees

A look at overall total contributions reveals that ballot committees were the biggest beneficiaries of AFT and NEA political cash. The two unions plowed more than $7.1 million into the Save Our Public Schools campaign, which successfully fought a ballot initiative to raise the charter school cap in Massachusetts. They also spent nearly $5 million in Georgia to defeat a proposal to adopt a statewide takeover district modeled on Louisiana’s Recovery School District.

However, their efforts to pass ballot initiatives in other states ran into trouble. In Oregon, AFT and NEA gave more than $3.5 million to two groups behind Measure 97, a ballot initiative that would have raised corporate taxes to pay for K-12 education and other state services. As noted in a previous post, Measure 97 was soundly rejected by voters, 59% to 41%.

NEA also spent $2.6 million in support of a ballot initiative in Maine – Question 2 – which would have raised taxes on wealthy citizens to help pay for the state’s public schools. Although the proposal passed by the narrowest of margins – about 9,500 votes – Governor Paul LePage signed a bill last month that repealed Question 2.

Contributions to party committees

Perhaps not surprisingly, 97% of the teachers unions’ contributions to party committees went to Democrats. NEA gave $350,000 to the North Carolina Democratic Party to boost Attorney General Roy Cooper’s campaign against Republican Governor Pat McCrory. The vote was so close that the State Board of Elections ordered a partial recount of ballots, which eventually confirmed that Cooper won by 10,000 votes out of more than 4.7 million cast.

Democrat Roy Cooper (left) defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in North Carolina’s gubernatorial election last year.

AFT and NEA also steered $230,000 to the Montana Democratic Party, whose standard bearer, incumbent Governor Steve Bullock, was up for reelection. Bullock easily defeated his Republican opponent, Greg Gianforte, who somehow managed to body slam a reporter and get himself elected to Congress six months later.

Contributions to independent expenditure groups

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC essentially removed limits on political spending by nonprofit organizations, super PACs have become dominant in the realm of campaign finance. Unlike traditional PACs, super PACs can spend an unlimited amount of money to advocate for or against political candidates, but are “independent” in the sense that they cannot directly give to candidates, nor coordinate with their campaigns.

During the 2016 election cycle, AFT and NEA gave tens of millions of dollars to super PACs and other outside groups, including some of the biggest players in Democratic politics. For example, the two unions gave Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC behind Hillary Clinton’s campaign, $2.5 million over the course of 2016. House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC, which support Democrats running for the U.S. House and Senate, received nearly $1.6 million from the teachers unions. They also contributed $960,000 to Women Vote!, a super PAC whose mission is to “elect pro-choice Democratic women to office.”

But AFT and NEA also used independent spending groups to influence state and local races. The two unions steered $865,000 to Kentucky Family Values, a super PACs supporting Democratic candidates for the state legislature, in an effort to prevent Gov. Matt Bevin from passing a law allowing charter schools in the Bluegrass State.2 They also put $300,000 behind Democrat Melissa Romano’s unsuccessful bid for Montana Superintendent of Schools. In addition, AFT spent nearly $370,000 to influence the outcome of last fall’s school board elections in New Orleans, as I revealed in a post earlier this year.

  1. It should be noted that these totals do not include contributions made to “dark money” organizations. Although both AFT and NEA often decry the use of dark money by their political opponents, both unions have used dark money organizations to hide their campaign contributions. 
  2. It didn’t work. Kentucky’s first charter school law was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Bevin in March of this year. 
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