human capital

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 Infographics

Tenure 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.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.