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.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”