the tenure track

Exclusive: Teacher tenure approvals tick up, continuing a de Blasio-era shift

PHOTO: Grace Tatter

New York City teachers were more likely to earn tenure last school year than at any point in the previous five years, but approval rates remain far lower than they were just a few years ago, when virtually every eligible teacher won the job protection.

Sixty-four percent of the 5,832 eligible teachers were granted tenure during the 2014-15 school year, up from 60 percent the year before, according to data released Thursday to Chalkbeat. Another 34 percent had their decisions deferred, and 2.3 percent were rejected, effectively ending their teaching careers in the district.

The numbers show that eligible teachers are slightly more likely to receive tenure under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s watch. But they also show that the de Blasio administration has not reversed the approach of his predecessor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration made attaining tenure dramatically more difficult not by rejecting tenure applications, but by delaying a larger share of those decisions to a later year.

Under Bloomberg, who promised to move toward “ending tenure as we know it,” tenure approval rates plummeted from 89 percent in the 2009-10 school year to 53 percent the year before de Blasio took control of the city school system. Bloomberg argued that too many teachers were earning tenure too quickly, and the city began delaying decisions for a large portion of eligible teachers.

Over his first two years, de Blasio has slowly changed course. In his first year, tenure rates inched up to 60 percent, a 7 percent increase that de Blasio said reflected his administration’s interest in rewarding and retaining top teachers. And last year, the approval rate increased again to 64 percent.

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The number of teachers whose tenure prospects were deferred fell slightly to 34 percent, down from a high of 44 percent in Bloomberg’s final year. Under both administrations, rejection rates have hovered around 2 percent.

“This process is working,” schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement. “We’ll continue to focus on retaining quality teachers and expediting the process for those who don’t belong in the profession.”

Six percent of teachers whose tenure decisions were previously delayed faced outright denial, up from 4 percent the previous year, which a department official emphasized as a sign of a rigorous tenure process.

But a more important statistic is that overall rejection rates have largely remained unchanged, according to David Bloomfield, a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center. “The publicity surrounding this is like, ‘we’re getting rid of bad teachers from the classrooms,’” he said. “The fact that the denials are flat – that’s always been the important point.”

The education department only released the tenure numbers — which have historically been distributed months earlier — to Chalkbeat after multiple requests. Observers say that reticence could reflect the political reality that both union supporters and advocates who want stricter tenure rules can use the data as a political bludgeon.

“What’s maybe going on is a peculiar calculus that the number of grants of tenure has gone up and somehow that makes them look bad,” Bloomfield said. “The raw data is likely to be used by the mayor’s opponents no matter what it is.”

For their part, union officials said they were not aware of last year’s tenure numbers until Thursday.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the city teachers union, said the new data “reflects the trend that we have seen, fewer teacher complaints about probation extensions and fewer requests for legal reviews” of those extensions.

Tenure rules have been the subject of increased national scrutiny in recent years, and there are active lawsuits from Minnesota to New York that claim the protections keep underperforming teachers in the classroom and violate students’ right to an adequate education. (An appeals court in California recently struck a blow to that argument, saying the tenure rules in that state did not deprive low-income students of their civil rights.)

A key feature of the national debate is how long teachers should be in the classroom before being considered for the job protection. U.S. Secretary of Education John King recently waded into that conversation, saying that two years is not enough. Under a recent change to state rules, teachers can be considered for the job protection only after four ‘probationary’ years.

Meanwhile, New York City school leaders are already making the next round of tenure decisions. Most of this year’s recommendations were due from principals April 30; teachers should be notified of those decisions by late June.

early running

Denver school board race opens up as Rosemary Rodriguez announces she won’t seek re-election

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Board member Rosemary Rodriguez speaks at Abraham Lincoln High (Chalkbeat file)

Denver school board member Rosemary Rodriguez said Wednesday that she is not running for re-election, putting her southwest Denver seat up for grabs in what will likely be a contentious school board campaign this fall with control of the board at stake.

Rodriguez told Chalkbeat she is retiring from her job as senior advisor to Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and plans to sell her home and buy a smaller one that belonged to her grandparents.

That home is not in her school board district, District 2, but in the district represented by board member Lisa Flores. With the exception of at-large members, Denver school board members must live in the districts they represent.

“If it weren’t the case, I would still be running,” Rodriguez said.

During her four-year tenure, Rodriguez worked with community groups and others to spotlight student achievement in southwest Denver, leading to new schools and better transportation.

Former Denver Public Schools teacher and Denver native Angela Cobian announced Wednesday that she is running for the seat. Rodriguez has endorsed Cobian, a political newcomer who works for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity, which helps Teach for America members and alumni get involved in politics and advocacy.

All seven current board members support Denver’s nationally known brand of education reform, which includes a “portfolio” of traditional district-run, charter, magnet and innovation schools.

With four of the the board’s seats up for grabs this November, the campaign presents an opportunity for opponents of those reforms to again try to get a voice on the board.

The field is still very much taking shape. The most competitive race so far involves District 4 in northeast Denver. Incumbent Rachele Espiritu, who was appointed to the seat last year, announced her campaign earlier this month. The board chose Espiritu after its initial pick, MiDian Holmes, withdrew after a child abuse case came to light and she was not forthcoming with all the details.

Also filing paperwork to run in District 4 is Jennifer Bacon, who was a finalist in the process that led to the board picking Espiritu. Auontai “Tay” Anderson, the student body president of Manual High School, declared his candidacy for the northeast Denver seat in April.

Incumbents Mike Johnson and Barbara O’Brien have not yet filed election paperwork with the state. Two candidates have declared for O’Brien’s at-large seat: Julie Banuelos and Jo Ann Fujioka.

equity issues

A report found black students and teachers in Denver face inequities. Can these 11 recommendations make a difference?

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
A student at Ashley Elementary School in Denver.

Helping African-American families understand their children’s school choices, offering signing bonuses to prospective black teachers and making student discipline data count in school ratings are among the recommendations of a task force that tackled inequities faced by African-American students and educators in Denver.

“Once we were able to get past some of the hurts that people experienced, once we were able to come up with the root causes and understand this process is going to be uncomfortable, we were able to come together in a way to do the work we need to do,” Allen Smith, the associate chief of Denver Public Schools’ Culture, Equity and Leadership Team, said Wednesday at an event to reveal the recommendations and solicit feedback at Bruce Randolph School on the city’s northeast side.

The DPS African-American Equity Task Force, which was comprised of more than 100 members, made 11 recommendations in all. (Read them in full below.) They include directing the district to:

— Design a tool to assist African-American families in understanding which schools best match their students’ needs and interests, and “generate personalized recommendations.”

— Require every school to create an Equity Plan “designed to strengthen relationships between African-Americans and schools” through strategies such as home visits by teachers.

— Ensure curriculum is culturally responsive to African-American students.

— Develop a plan to increase black students’ access to “high value learning opportunities,” including the district’s gifted and talented program, and concurrent enrollment courses.

— Create a human resources task force that would, among other things, ensure African-American job candidates receive equal consideration and once hired, equal pay.

— Incentivize black educators to come to DPS and stay, and create a pipeline program to encourage black students “to return to serve their own communities.”

The recommendations do not include a price tag. Nor have they “been evaluated for legal compliance,” according to the document.

The task force was created in the wake of a critical report documenting the concerns of 70 African-American Denver educators. The educators said black teachers feel isolated and passed-over for promotions. Black students are being left behind academically, the teachers said, in part because of low expectations and harsh discipline by teachers who are not black.

Thirteen percent of the district’s approximately 92,000 students are African-American. Last year, just 4 percent of DPS teachers were black. Seventy-four percent were white.

District statistics show that the percentages of African-American students who are proficient in English and math, as measured by state tests, trail district averages. Only a third of black students graduated college-ready last year, which is lower than white or Latino students.

Meanwhile, more black students are identified as needing special education. And African-American students have the highest suspension rate in the district.

The district has taken some steps to address the inequities. DPS is part of a multi-year campaign along with the mayor’s office and charter school operators to recruit more than 70 teachers of color and 10 school leaders of color to Denver.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg noted at Wednesday’s event that DPS is starting to see results; one-quarter of new principals hired to lead schools next year are African-American, he said.

For the first time this year, the district required its new teachers to take a previously optional three-hour course on culturally responsive teaching in which they were asked to share fears about working with students and families from different backgrounds.

DPS also added a new measure this year to its color-coded school rating system that takes into account how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. However, the district has since tweaked its “equity indicator” in response to concerns from school leaders, and the task force recommended even more changes. In addition to looking at student test scores, it is calling for including discipline data, as well as teacher hiring, retention and promotion data.

And the district has announced plans to eliminate out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for preschool through third-grade students except in the most serious incidents.

The set of 11 recommendations includes one overarching one: the creation of an African-American Equity Team to ensure the district executes the ideas it adopts.

“A deep thank you for your work and a deep thank you in advance for the work we will be doing together,” Boasberg said.

The recommendations are scheduled to be presented to the Denver school board in June.

Read the full recommendations below.