Fewer Teachers Tenured Under NYC Reform; Union Sues

Published August 10, 2011

In 2007, 97 percent of teachers in New York City schools received tenure. This year, 58 percent received tenure under a tighter teacher evaluation system, prompting a legal challenge from the state’s largest teachers union.

Of the city’s 5,209 teachers under evaluation this year, 3 percent were denied tenure, and 39 percent saw their tenure decisions put on hold pending further review, according to figures from the New York City Department of Education. Only 1 percent of teachers were denied tenure in 2007.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised in September to end automatic tenure and the city enacted a new system shortly thereafter. 

“Every child deserves a great teacher, and in New York City, we are lucky to have many of them,” said Bloomberg in written statement announcing the results of the new tenure policy in July. “But just as we are committed to raising standards for our students, we are also raising standards for our teachers. Making tenure an earned distinction rather than an automatic right will help our teachers get better and ensure that more of them can develop into not just good, but great, teachers. That’s what our kids deserve and our parents expect.”

Four-Point Rating System
Under the new standards, principals recommend teachers for tenure according to three categories: proof of student learning, based on test scores, the quality of students’ work and levels of class attendance, and comments from parents; on classroom observation; and on teachers’ overall contributions to the school. 

Principals rate teachers in each category on a four-point scale, ranging from an “ineffective” rating of one to “highly effective” at four. Principals may only recommend teachers for tenure who have completed a three-year probationary period, then scored “effective” or “highly effective” in all three categories for at least two more years in a row.

“We certainly backed the mayor when he was looking to get rid of ‘first in, last out’ provisions,” said Robert Lillpopp, spokesman for the Public Policy Institute of New York. “It’s become a hindrance … [that] teachers hired in 1983 were the last ones laid off just because they’ve got seniority. We say the time has come and gone for that.”

Decades of research have created a consensus that one year of effective or ineffective teaching can make the difference between a child falling hopelessly behind and remaining engaged in school.

Calls for Further Reforms
More change is still needed, said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform.
“A teacher’s demonstrated impact on student achievement growth—moving students from one level to higher achievement levels over time—should be the primary factor in granting a teacher any reward,” Allen said. “Removing ironclad tenure rules, while progress, is no substitute for enacting meaningful performance pay measures that ensure contracts are based on qualitative measures.”

Only 40 percent of New York state schools connect teacher evaluations to student performance, and even in those cases the evaluations do not rest on student test scores or concrete measurements, she said.

“Rather, [they’re based on] a hodgepodge of school-determined factors,” Allen said. “That’s not good enough. Every employee in a school must be willing to be evaluated based not just on their skills and experience but on clear and measurable progress with students. End automatic tenure, yes, but any tenure is worthless unless students’ rights are protected.”

Legal Challenge Pending
New York City’s tighter tenure standards are now under a legal challenge from the New York State United Teachers, an AFL-CIO affiliate representing more than 600,000 education officials. The union filed suit against the Board of Regents and the state’s education commissioner, alleging the city’s tenure policy violates the state’s education law by rating teachers based on flawed student performance data.

The lawsuit also claims, according to an NYSUT press release, the tenure regulations disregard existing laws that tie teachers’ performance reviews to collective bargaining.

In response, New York State Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said the new tenure evaluation system is fair and impartial, and “we have every confidence that it will be upheld by the courts.”