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New York Post

 

Tackling NY Teacher Tenure

August 25, 2012

By Marcus A. Winters

Why is it even necessary?

Prompted by abundant research that points to teachers as the key school-based ingredient in education, New York City and other large districts have wisely focused considerable effort on removing their worst ones. A key method: tenure reform.

And while the 55 percent tenure-approval rate for this year, which the city announced last week, suggests that New York is indeed raising the bar, it fails to answer a key question: Why should any teachers, who consider themselves professionals, get tenure in the first place?

Once tenured, a teacher cannot be fired without due process. Technically, that doesn’t guarantee a teacher’s job for life. But in practice, the due process required to remove a tenured teacher is so burdensome and has such little probability of success that most schools don’t even attempt to remove the worst of them.

Just eight public-school teachers, in total, were fired for incompetence during the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years — and six of those cases included an additional charge, such as insubordination or misconduct. Surely there are more than eight teachers to whom you would not want your child assigned.

Job protections wouldn’t be so concerning if they were granted only to deserving teachers. But like many other school systems, New York’s teachers are eligible for tenure after just three years. That’s far too soon to know if a teacher really has what it takes. It also reflects the unreasonable assumption that a teacher will never regress.

Worst of all, until recently, performance in the classroom had little influence on whether a teacher was granted tenure. In 2006, about 99 percent of eligible teachers got tenure on the first try.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, New York has primarily addressed the issue by making tenure harder to earn. And the progress is commendable.

But while the tenure-approval rate dropped to 55 percent last year, probation was extended to most of the remaining teachers, some 42 percent of the total; just 3 percent of eligible teachers were denied tenure outright. The effort to ratchet up the standard for tenure will mean little if it just makes bad teachers wait another year or two before they get lifetime job protections.

Of course, the answer isn’t necessarily to shuffle more teachers out the door immediately. Like other professionals, most teachers are performing well enough to avoid termination but not so well as to deserve permanent job protections.

But again, the persistent low tenure-denial rate shows the need to rethink the relationship between public schools and teachers. The real question, again, is: As professionals, why do any public-school teachers deserve lifetime job protections?

Tenure’s defenders are quick to point out that, before the practice existed, teachers were often inappropriately terminated for their political beliefs, cronyism and even getting pregnant. That’s true. But employment laws protect workers against such egregious actions today.

Further, past administrators could get away with improperly removing truly effective teachers in part because schools lacked objective measures of performance. But the ubiquity of standardized testing now allows us in many cases to objectively identify the system’s worst teachers.

Like many other school systems, New York now uses a method known as "value added" to measure each teacher’s independent influence on his students’ performance on standardized tests.

Though the results of this procedure are undoubtedly imperfect and should thus not be used in isolation to fire teachers, research shows that a teacher’s value-added score one year contains information that dramatically improves our ability to identify teachers who will continue to perform poorly in the future.

Other states, including neighboring New Jersey, have recently adopted laws that revoke the tenure of teachers who have performed poorly repeatedly. New York should follow their lead.

Teachers are what make the difference in a public school. Taking that simple and obvious lesson from empirical research seriously means allowing schools to remove those teachers who are not making a difference in the lives of their students, even if they have managed to stick around for more than three years.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/tackling_ny_teacher_tenure_R4CMPhSsGN2srYLJQzmS6H

 

 
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