City Revamps Guidelines for Teacher Tenure

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Deputy Chancellor John White says tenure should be the highest honor, not the default (Beth Fertig)

New York City wants to institute new guidelines that will make it harder for public school teachers to get tenure.

Deputy Chancellor John White said principals are getting new guidelines that encourage them to grade teachers more rigorously than before when it comes to tenure evaluations.

"This is a culture shift across our system from one where we accept tenure as the de facto option, to one where we make it the highest reward that our system has to offer its teachers," he stated.

Tenure can be granted after three years' probation. Principals make their recommendations to district superintendents by simply stating that a teacher does or does not deserve the lifetime job protection. But starting this year, principals are being asked to consider three specific factors in determining tenure: student achievement, observations of classroom teaching and evidence of the teacher's impact on the school community. And they'll be asked to assign their teachers one of four ratings from "ineffective" to "highly effective."

"If you are effective in those areas and you've demonstrated it year after year, we want you for lifetime in this school system," White explained. "But we're not going to grant lifetime employment until we have a guarantee that you're going to be effective for life."

Currently, teachers are rated either satisfatory ("S") or unsatisfactory ("U"). The Department of Education says some teachers with "U" ratings have received tenure.

The Bloomberg Administration has long complained that too many teachers receive lifetime job protections. But roughly 89 percent of teachers still receive tenure. The city says that's a big difference from five years earlier though, when 99 percent received tenure. Deputy Chancellor Eric Nadelstern says the economy is one factor. Four years ago, there was a scarcity of teachers but now there are many more applicants and the city has an "opportunity for higher standards," he said.

He also said principals are just beginning to use student test scores in making their tenure decisions. Elementary and middle school teachers have been given ratings based on how much progress their students made on state math and reading tests. These "teacher data reports" were used in tenure considerations for the first time this year. The United Federation of Teachers is now suing the city to prevent it from releasing the names of the 12,000 teachers who got the ratings. The union said it's worried about invading its members privacy and it argued that the ratings are a poor measurement of teacher quality.

However, White and Nadelstern both insisted the teacher ratings aren't the only factors in making tenure evaluations. In looking at student achievement, principals are also now being encouraged to look at student papers and projects and Regents exams. Extra credit is given when progress is made among special education students, English Language Learners and high school students who are overage and don't have enough credits. Principals are also supposed to look at instructional practices, such as observations of a teacher's classroom lessons, planning, commitment to improvements and how they assess their students.

This year, the state legislature passed a law creating four categories for rating teachers instead of just two: satisfactory and unsatisfactory. Teachers will be rated as ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective starting in the 2011-2012 school year. But the city is encouraging principals to get a head start by using these ratings for new teachers and to withhold tenure from anyone who isn't considered effective for two years in a row.

A spokeswoman for the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, Chiara Coletti, says union president Ernest Logan was aware of the coming changes but that they don't sound dramatic. Principals can already choose to extend the probation period if they don't think a teacher is ready for tenure, but they now have the opportunity to explain it. She says the majority of principals will welcome the guidelines because "principals feel equal to the responsibility of explaining why they've made the decision they've made." 

The teachers union downplayed the changes, though. "Every time the DOE needs a cheap headline, they make some pronouncement about teacher tenure, conveniently ignoring the fact that the process for granting tenure has always been within the DOE and the Chancellor's control," union president Michael Mulgrew said in a statement.

"We'll be reviewing this latest process with the hope that it can help solve the system's real problem -- the huge numbers of teachers who leave of their own accord before their probationary period ends. If the administration spent half as much time and energy supporting teachers as it does pontificating about tenure, we'd have a better school system."

The UFT claims 40 percent of teachers leave before the end of their three year probation period, largely because they don't get enough support and professional development. The Department of Education disputes that number, and says it's closer to 25 percent.


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Comments [5]

Amanda Valenti from New York, NY

One note that is missing from the tenure debate, is how harsh the penalty is for getting an unsatisfactory rating if you are untenured. An untenured teacher receiving a "U" loses their lisence to teach in New York State forever. I know of no other career that does this to its professionals. Does one law firm strip a lawyer from the bar that doesn't suit their needs? Do journalists let go from a news station lose their ability to report news in another more suitable setting? No, only in the teaching profession does one person (principal) have the power to strip someone of their intended career. This has been upheld even in cases where no observations were ever made of the "u rated teacher."

I think if the penalty were less harsh--removal from the school, but not from the profession--you would see more honest ratings. We must acknowledge that this is a great amount of power to give to a principal, with no checks or balances on the teachers' side. Conversely, many principals don't want to take away people's ability to teach ever again and wind up giving someone a satisifactory rating even though they are not suited for that particular school.

Jul. 30 2011 01:38 PM
BIG BRONX from Bronx

I was suppose to receive tenure, but had my probation extended with no explanation other than that the super intendant requested it and demanded that my principal get me to sign an extension of probation agreement, even though he made the reccomendation for me to receive tenure.

I still do not know what I am suppose to do to receive tenure and have been given no advice from any administrators or the union.

I have great observations, three "s" rating and have never been late. It does not make sense.

Ready to just walk away.

Jan. 04 2011 10:58 AM
John McGoldrick from New Jersey

Thank you for the additional information. However, these numbers still don't add up. According to the NYC Dept. of Education website(, 6,798 new hires began in the 2007-2008 school year and would be reviewed for tenure in the 2009-2010 school year. Assuming only 25% attrition (while in reality the same website states an average 3yr attrition of 37.225% for years 2002-2005) that would mean that only 5098 teachers in that cohort reached the three year mark in 2009-2010 so how could 6386 teachers be evaluated for tenure that year?

What we really need to know is this: How many teachers were hired in the first year of the cohort, how many remained at the end of year three, and how many of the remaining teachers were granted tenure?

I suspect that the typical cohort is closer to this: 7,000 teachers hired each year, of which an average of 4410 (63%) remain at the end of the probation period, and 89% of those teachers (3,925) are granted tenure. That means only 56% of the original cohort is granted tenure. That is a very different picture than the one suggested by an 89% tenure statistic.

Dec. 14 2010 04:17 PM

Here's the precise breakdown:

In the 2009-10 school year, 11 percent of 6386 teachers who had been working for three years were either denied tenure or had their probation extended. Among 81 teachers with a low value-added score (based on how their students performed on state exams), 17.3% had tenure denied and 50.6% had it extended. Among 96 teachers with a high value-added score, 3.7% were denied tenure and 7.3 percent were extended.

The union and the city are at odds over attrition rates. Department of Education spokesman Matt Mittenthal says, "We lose about 1/3 of our new hires to attrition by their fourth year. If you were to include attrition only up to the tenure decision point (before the end of the third year) then the number is around 25 percent. As a related point, there’s no reason to attribute all attrition to lack of support—some of it is involuntary (termination), some is due to personal circumstances, and some people realize this isn’t the best career for them. Not all attrition is bad or avoidable."

An academic study presented in November found attrition after 3 years has fallen from over 40 percent in 2002 to more than 35 percent in 2006. "Recruiting, Evaluating and Retaining Teachers:The Children First Strategy to Improve New York City’s Teachers" is by Margaret Goertz, University of Pennsylvania, Susanna Loeb, Stanford University, Jim Wyckoff, University of Virginia. Prepared for the New York City Education Reform Retrospective Project. November 2010

Dec. 14 2010 01:47 PM
John McGoldrick from New Jersey

Please clarify the apparent contradiction in the statistics reported regarding the percentage of teachers who are granted tenure. If anywhere from 25 to 40% of new teachers are leaving the school district, or the career for that matter, how is it possible that 89% are granted tenure. Perhaps you meant to say that 89% of the teachers who have survived the three year probation period were ultimately granted tenure. Bearing in mind that a certain percentage leave the profession in that time period, and many others are dismissed prior to the third year, it is obviously a smaller percentage of beginning teachers that survive the three year period and receive tenure.
A more accurate and informative report would be to follow a cohort of teachers hired in a given year and follow through within that cohort as to the outcome. What percentage are dismissed within a year? Two years? What percentage leave the district to teach elsewhere (thus starting over in the three year probation)? What percentage leave the profession?
This would be a more useful and accurate report compared with the misleading 89% figure that you are reporting.

Dec. 14 2010 12:29 PM

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