CITY HALL — More than 40 percent of the city's new teachers were not granted tenure this year after major changes were made to the system, which has long been slammed by critics as nothing more than a rubber stamp.
Just 58 percent of the 5,209 eligible new teachers were approved for tenure in the 2010-2011 school year, according to new numbers released by the city Wednesday — a substantial drop from the 97 percent who’d been approved in 2006-2007. The rate had hovered above or near 90 percent in the intervening years.
The major difference was in the number of teachers whose applications were extended - 39 percent last year compared to just one percent in 2006-2007. Receiving an extension means an application will be reviewed the next year.
And three percent of teachers had their tenure denied outright in 2010-2011, forcing them to transfer license areas and switch districts if they still want to teach. That figure has been fairly static over the past five years.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg praised the drop, which he credited to a “drastic” re-envisioning of the way tenure is awarded aimed at “end[ing] teacher tenure as we know it.”
“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,” he said, slamming the old system as “a joke interpretation of the state law.”
Under the new rules, principals must evaluate teachers using a more rigorous system. Teachers are rated as “ineffective,” “developing,” “effective” or “highly effective" in three categories: their performance in the classroom, how well their students are learning and their contributions to the school community.
To be recommended for tenure, a teacher must be rated as “effective” or “highly effective” in all three categories for at least two consecutive years, the DOE said.
Pressed about whether the results mean that more than a third of new teachers in city classrooms are unqualified to teach, Bloomberg insisted that failure to receive a tenure-worthy rating does not mean teachers aren't qualified.
“It’s not that they’re bad. It’s that they’re not up to our standards yet,” he said, adding that if teachers were really that bad “we would fire them right now.” He argued that standards for tenure should be stringent to prevent the city from getting “stuck with" sub-par teachers "forever."
Once teachers are tenured, they become extremely difficult to fire, he said.
But United Federation of Teachers secretary Michael Mendel slammed the new numbers, saying that while the UFT supported a more rigorous tenure system, the DOE's implementation has been deeply flawed.
“We have tremendous problems with what they did,” he said, arguing that the evaluations are based on “broken” state test data and that principals’ decisions were sometimes over-ruled unfairly by the DOE.
The UFT sent a letter to the DOE earlier this month citing complaints from teachers who said they have been forced to remain on probation "for reasons entirely unrelated to their performance," such as principals' failure to complete the sufficient number of observations or because they'd transferred schools.
The letter also cited a correlation between tenure decisions and school progress reports, suggesting teachers may have been punished for teaching at low-performing schools.
Mendel said the lower tenure rates would have a negative impact on morale.
“You’re going to be upset, you’re going to be hurt, you’re going to be demoralized,” he said of teachers whose tenure had not been approved.
But Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott defended the new system, saying that it's a more accurate reflection of the situation in city schools.
“I don’t know a single profession where 97 percent deserve to have a lifetime job," he said, adding that being granted an extension “in not punishment” for teachers.
“You have another year to take your game to the next level,” he said.
Of the 426 teachers who had their tenure decisions extended in the 2009-2010, 31 percent were approved for tenure this year, while 58 percent were given another extension, a DOE spokesman said.