Dear Commons Community,
Nearly half of New York City teachers reaching the end of their probations were denied tenure this year, the Education Department said on Friday, marking the culmination of years of efforts toward Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s goal to end “tenure as we know it.” The New York Times reported:
“Only 55 percent of eligible teachers, having worked for at least three years, earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 percent in 2007.
An additional 42 percent this year were kept on probation for another year, and 3 percent were denied tenure and fired. Of those whose probations were extended last year, fewer than half won tenure this year, a third were given yet another year to prove themselves, and 16 percent were denied tenure or resigned.
The totals reflect a reversal in the way tenure is granted not only in New York City but around the country. While tenure was once considered nearly automatic, it has now become something teachers have to earn.
A combination of factors — the education reform movement, slow economies that have pinched spending for new teachers, and federal grant competitions like Race to the Top that encourage states to change their policies — have led lawmakers to tighten the requirements not only for earning tenure, but for keeping it.
Idaho last year did away with tenure entirely by passing a law giving newly hired teachers no expectation of a contract renewal from one year to the next. In Florida, all newly hired teachers now must earn an annual contract, with renewals based upon their performance.
Last month in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation overhauling the nation’s oldest tenure law and making it easier for teachers to be fired for poor performance.
“There has been a sea change in what’s been happening with the teacher tenure laws,” said Kathy Christie, a senior official with the Education Commission of the States, a policy organization funded by state fees and grants. “In 2011 there were 18 state legislatures that addressed some component of teacher tenure and many of them in a significant way, and that is enormous.”
In New York City and many other districts, tenure decisions are increasingly based on how the teachers’ students score on standardized tests, as well as mandatory classroom observations by principals or other administrators.”
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, the city teacher’s union, said that he had always supported a “rigorous but fair” process of granting tenure. But, he said, large numbers of teachers were quitting the profession early in their careers, a sign that the city had not yet figured out how to help them succeed.
According to the union, of the 5,231 teachers hired in the 2008-9 school year, nearly 30 percent had quit by the end of their third years. There are roughly 75,000 teachers in New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school system.
“If New York City hopes to have a great school system, it will need to come up with better methods of helping teachers develop, not only at the beginning but throughout their careers,” Mr. Mulgrew said.
We also need to remember also that tenure’s most important benefit is to grant teachers certain protections against dismissal without justification, including the right to a hearing before an arbitrator. Teachers and their unions embrace tenure as an important defense against indiscriminate or politically tinged hiring and firing.