Beth Fertig is the contributing editor for education, covering the New York City public school system for WNYC on air and online at SchoolBook.org. She has covered education in the city for more than 15 years. Beth is the author of Why cant u teach me 2 read? Three Students and a Mayor Put Our Schools to the Test (FSG Books) which grew out of a radio series on the low graduation rate for special education students. Follow her @bethfertig.
Far Fewer City Teachers Get Tenure After Change in Guidelines
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Far fewer city teachers got tenure this year after the Bloomberg administration urged principals to follow new guidelines.
Only 58 percent of eligible teachers got their tenure approved compared to 89 percent last year, and most of the other teachers had their tenure decisions extended by an extra year.
"Tenure ought to be reserved for only the best teachers and unfortunately as we all know, for far too long tenure was instead awarded primarily on the basis of longevity not performance," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who added the percentage of teachers getting tenure this year fell because the city adopted tougher standards for principals to follow.
Tenure can be rewarded after three years' probation. Principals make their recommendations to local superintendents.
Only 2.9 percent of teachers up for tenure were flat out rejected — which is slightly less than the 3.2 percent rejected last year.
Last fall, the city instructed principals to award tenure based on three categories: higher standards of teacher practice, evidence of student learning and contributions to the school community.
United Federation of Teachers secretary Michael Mendel said he's glad the city is seeking higher standards, but he's heard complaints from his members about principals feeling pressured not to award tenure now.
"When a principal says, 'I want to recommend granting a tenure,' the department now all of a sudden says to the principal, 'No no, you can't do that,'" That's wrong," Mendel said.
Deputy Chancellor and Chief Instructional Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky denied this. But WNYC spoke with several principals who said they did, indeed, feel pressure not to award tenure. The principals all declined to be identified for fear of retribution.
One Brooklyn principal said she recommended tenure for seven teachers, all of whom she felt deserved it, but that her superintendent rejected two of them. She had to encourage them to stay on so she could try again next year.
A Manhattan principal said she recommended three teachers for tenure this year and also felt pressure to go back and look at their data, but was persuaded they had done a good job with their students.
"In previous years nobody ever said anything about it," she said.
And a Bronx principal complained that the city changed the rules mid-stream. He noted that besides test scores, teachers had to develop a portfolio and get letters of support from parents and colleagues.
"This requirement was told to teachers after the fact making it impossible for some to gather information going three years' back," he said.
The teachers union has sent a letter to Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott requesting more data about teachers who didn't get tenure this year.
A spokesman for the chancellor said Walcott wrote back saying he's in the process of evaluating the request and gathering data.