human capital

Fewer teachers granted tenure this year, but denials hold steady

Percentage of Teachers Who Had Tenure Denied or Extended
Percentage of Teachers Who Had Tenure Denied or Extended

In a stark departure from tradition, more than 40 percent of city teachers up for tenure this year did not get it.

Just over 5,200 teachers were up for tenure this year. Of them, 58 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion — 39 percent — had their probationary periods extended for another year.

The number of extensions inched up in 2010 to 8 percent, but skyrocketed this year after the Department of Education revamped the tenure evaluation process in an effort to make the protection tougher to receive.

Yet the rate of tenure denials actually fell slightly from last year, from about 3.3 percent in 2010 to 2.7 percent in 2011, or 151 teachers, despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s insistence that the figures were the first step toward “ending tenure as we know it.”

The numbers, which Bloomberg touted at a press conference today, confirm anecdotal reports pointing to a sharp rise in the number of probation extensions under the new system. Before last year, that option was rarely used and the vast majority of teachers received tenure almost as a formality.

But last fall, Bloomberg vowed to make tenure a reward not for time served but for pushing students forward. In December, the city unveiled a new evaluation rubric for teachers up for tenure and said that teachers falling in the bottom two categories of four should not receive tenure.

“Tenure ought to be reserved for only the best teachers, and unfortunately, as we all know, for far too long it has been awarded primarily on the basis on longevity, not performance,” Bloomberg said today.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said today that he expects the number of tenure denials to rise next year.

Teachers whose probationary periods were extended will get individualized support, Walcott promised. He did not offer specifics about what form that support would take but said the point of the extra year is improvement.

Of the 426 teachers who had their probation extended in 2010, 58 percent had their probation extended a second time this year, DOE spokesman Matthew Mittenthal said. Thirty-one percent of those teachers earned tenure this year.

“Getting an extension is not a bad thing, it’s not a punishment,” Walcott said. “It’s another year to take your game to the next level.”

But Walcott said he would be scrutinizing teachers whose probations are repeatedly extended, as city schools policy allows. And Bloomberg indicated that multiple extensions could help weed some teachers out of the system.

“Keep in mind, if a teacher gets turned down year after year, common sense says that they’ll say, maybe this is not an occupation for me. Everyone has self-esteem, they want to do something they can do well, so a lot of it would take care of itself,” Bloomberg said.

But with the results of the new evaluation system not actually altering the makeup of who is in the city’s classrooms, some say the high extension rate reflects not on teacher quality but on confusion and data troubles within the DOE.

In many cases, principals and teachers say, the extensions were not prompted by concerns about teachers’ skills. Some principals reported being told they could not exercise discretion in the case of mismatch between DOE data reports’ assessment of teachers and their own assessments.

UFT Secretary Michael Mendel said today that the union continues to supports tougher tenure evaluation standards but objects to the use of “broken tools,” such as the city’s Teacher Data Reports, and to principals being told that they cannot recommend tenure when they feel it is deserved.

“You can’t tell me [principals] went from, I’m not sure about 7 or 8 percent of teachers to, I’m not sure about 40,” Mendel said. “It’s not the case. It’s people being told by principals, we wanted to grant you tenure and we can’t.”

And some teachers said they were told they weren’t eligible for tenure for reasons other than their own performance. At Aspirations High School in East New York, for example, administrators’ failure to complete classroom observations and the school’s F grade were cited as reasons for across-the-board extensions, teachers said earlier this month.

In a letter to Walcott earlier this month, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the union was “outraged” if problems with data or supervision contributed to some teachers’ probation extensions.

The city did not immediately offer breakdowns of tenure denials and extensions by school. But Walcott indicated that such data would show “a correlation” between low-performing schools and tenure denials and extensions.

Educators 4 Excellence, the organization of young teachers that has called for changes to layoff and evaluation rules, said in a statement that the group supports the mayor’s efforts to make tenure “a significant professional milestone.” But the group also wants clarity about how tougher evaluations are conducted.

“What we learned from this year’s effort is that teachers need more transparency about how decisions are made and the process must be standardized across all schools,” E4E’s statement said.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.