Tenure approval rate ticks up in first decisions under de Blasio

Sixty percent of New York City teachers eligible for tenure during the last school year received it, more than in any year since the city launched a crackdown to make the job protection harder to secure.

Two percent of the 4,660 teachers up for tenure were rejected, effectively barring them from working in city schools, according to data that the Department of Education released today. Another 38 percent of teachers had their tenure decisions deferred for another year.

The rejection rate was lower than in any of the past three years but remained higher than in 2010, when then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan 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. Just before he made the changes, 11 percent of teachers up for tenure had been denied or had their probationary periods extended — up from about 1 percent at the start of his term.

In the three years after Bloomberg’s vow, the tenure approval rate fell steadily. This year marked the first increase in the approval rate, which was 53 percent last year.

Percentage of NYC teachers denied or extended tenure, 2006-2014 | Create InfographicsTenure decisions are typically made in spring, so this year’s decisions were made after Bloomberg had ceded control of the school system to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has emphasized the need to retain strong teachers over firing weak ones.

De Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, sounded the same note in a statement today. “Retention of quality teachers is an urgent priority … and at the same time, the methodology for helping someone out of the profession who does not belong in the profession is also better than it’s ever been,” she said.

The new data comes as a lawsuit taking on New York State’s tenure laws is making its way through the courts. That lawsuit, brought in two parts by an advocacy group headed by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown and by a parent advocacy group, charges that the state’s teacher protections violate students’ right to a “sound, basic education” because weak teachers cannot easily be fired.

The union’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit emphasized that the data cited in it predates the tenure rate’s recent downward trend, and the newest tenure data further undermines Brown’s argument, a city teachers union spokeswoman said in a statement. “So much for Campbell Brown’s claim that tenure is automatic,” said the spokeswoman, Alison Gendar.

But Brown said in a statement of her own that a system in which few teachers are actually barred from getting tenure remains unfair to students.

“While teachers deserve our respect and admiration, these numbers prove — again — that our system of awarding tenure is broken,” Brown said. “In fact, it violates common sense for a system to approve or extend tenure to nearly every teacher while two-thirds of their students remain without basic skills.”

Bloomberg administration officials argued that it makes sense for teachers to spend four or more years on probation, rather than the legal 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.

According to the Department of Education, 31 percent of the teachers up for tenure in 2014 had previously had their probationary periods extended. Forty-two percent of them were extended again.