Unions Block Evaluations as Fewer NYC Teachers Receive Tenure

Published August 28, 2012

Just 55 percent of New York City teachers completing their three-year probationary periods earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 percent in 2007. Another 42 percent of teachers were granted an additional probationary year, while 3 percent were denied tenure.

“Receiving tenure is no longer an automatic right, and our new approach ensures that teachers who are granted tenure have earned it,” said NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in a press statement. “We must improve the tenure process even further, and a teacher evaluation system will do just that and ensure our children are taught by the best.”

In the rest of the state’s 700 districts, unions are largely blocking a law likely to lead to similar results statewide.

Stronger Evaluations
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) devised a stronger teacher evaluation system in February 2011, and netted broad support for it, including from teachers unions.

Students’ academic growth now represents 20 percent of a New York teacher’s evaluation, adjusted for student factors such as prior academic history, poverty, English abilities, and disabilities. Local collective bargaining agreements determine the other 80 percent.

Twenty percent of the local evaluation must consider student achievement, according to the new law, whereas 60 percent may be based on “soft” measures such as supervisor observations and parent or student surveys.

Unions Block Implementation
Every New York district was supposed to submit its evaluation plan for state Education Department approval no later than July 1. Just 164 districts met that deadline, rising to 214 as of the latest update on July 20.

That means less than a third of the state’s districts have complied with the law, leaving nearly 500 districts, including New York City, debating the details with union locals.

State education officials are reviewing district plans, and spokesman Jonathan Burman said state Commissioner John King Jr. is optimistic all districts will ultimately submit their evaluation agreements.

“This is a sea change in education,” King said, adding the department would periodically update the number of district evaluation plans submitted.

Changing the System
“The more unions have the ability to veto [teacher evaluation plans], the harder it is to get a plan that works,” said Marcus Winters, a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. In spite of union resistance, he said, “Unions are changing their tune and participating in the reform design.”

New York has made significant progress improving teacher evaluations over the last few years, Winters said. The state’s teacher evaluation and tenure reforms are “changing the default of the system,” he said, meaning more teachers who shouldn’t be in the classroom won’t be. 

Image by F. Delventhal.