the new normal

Tenure crunch continues, but just 41 teachers denied on first try

Percentage of New York City teachers who had tenure denied or extended, 2006-2013
Percentage of New York City teachers who had tenure denied or extended, 2006-2013

For the third year in a row, nearly half of teachers up for tenure last year did not receive it. But the number of teachers outright denied the job protection remained small.

Just under 4,000 teachers were up for tenure in the 2012-2013 school year, with 2,551 of them facing the decision for the first time — fewer than usual because hiring restrictions had been in place three years earlier. Of the total, 53 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion — 44 percent — had their probationary periods extended for another year.

Only 41 of the 2,551 teachers up for tenure for the first time this year were told they could not continue to work in city schools, according to city data. That means the denial rate for teachers in the tenure pool was about 1.6 percent, lower than in each of the past two years. The extension rate for teachers up for tenure for the first time was 44 percent, up slightly since last year.

The high extension rate is a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to make tenure tougher to achieve. Bloomberg vowed in 2010 to move toward “ending tenure as we know it,” a change he favored because teachers who do not yet have tenure can more easily be fired. The previous year, 11 percent of teachers up for tenure had been denied or extended. At the start of the mayor’s tenure, that figure had been about 1 percent.

“If you turned back the clock, tenure was an automatic right and not something earned,” Walcott said in a statement today. “But that’s changed.”

Department of Education officials also argue that it makes sense for teachers to spend four or more years on probation, rather than the minimum of three, because research suggests teachers do not reach their full capacity until they have been on the job for more than five years.

Half of the 1,369 teachers up for tenure who previously had their probationary periods extended received tenure this year, according to the city. That figure was higher than last year, the first when the tenure pool included large numbers of teachers who had previously been considered for tenure.

Teachers who had their probations extended last year for the first time were denied tenure 3.5 percent of the time this year. For the 623 teachers in the tenure pool who had received at least two extensions already, the average denial rate was 7 percent, according to the department.

This year was the third in which principals had to justify tenure recommendations to their superintendents, who make the final determination about whether teachers receive tenure. Under the review process put in place in 2010, principals and superintendents consider each teacher’s student performance data, his “practice” as represented by a portfolio of work, and the way that he contributes to the school community.

The student performance subcomponent has been the most contentious change. In the past, some principals reported being told that they could not recommend tenure for teachers whose students had low test scores, and union officials said the tenure tug of war had taken place mostly at schools with many struggling students. This year, principals were encouraged to weigh teachers’ state “growth scores,” available for the first time for teachers in tested grades and subjects, whenever able. Starting this year, those scores will factor into teachers’ annual evaluations.

Walcott said the tenure changes and the evaluation system were both designed to ensure that city teachers are high-performing. “We are not only keeping our best teachers in city schools through our more rigorous tenure process, but coupled with our new evaluation system, Advance, we’re developing them into even better educators,” he said.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who has said the teachers union supports “a rigorous but fair” system for awarding tenure, said the new data mask the reality that the city loses many teachers well before they come up for tenure, a reality that he blamed on the Bloomberg administration’s emphasis on test scores.

The department’s “self-congratulatory announcement ignores a more important issue,” Mulgrew said. “In the teeth of the worst recession in decades, more than one-third of the over 6,800 teachers hired in 2006-2007 left New York City public schools of their own accord.”

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.