The New York City Department of Education (DOE) issued new guidelines for granting teachers tenure in the New York City Public School System through a memorandum sent to district principals on Monday, December 13. According to the DOE, the new guidelines seek to make the tenure-granting process more transparent than those previously in place, which granted tenure to educators based solely on the discretion of principals and superintendants, and was often an automatic result of contractual seniority after a three year “probationary” period spent teaching in the district. Teachers who have already been granted tenure are not affected by the change in policy.
The new system requires principals to evaluate teachers using a rubric known as the “Four Point Effectiveness Framework,” which measures teacher performance and competence in three areas: Impact on student learning, which is based on student portfolios and standardized test scores; Instructional Practice, based on administrator classroom observations as well as teacher work products such as curricula or lesson plans; and Professional Contributions, which are assessed through student, parent and colleague evaluations as well as attendance and punctuality. Every year, principals are to assign teachers a grade of Very Effective, Effective, Developing, or Ineffective in each category. Tenure is only to be granted to teachers rated Effective or Very Effective in every category for two years in a row. There are no restrictions on the number of Effective or Very Effective grades a principal can give in a year.
Tenure recommendations are sent from principals to the Superintendant’s Office, which makes the final decision on all candidates
submitted. Under the new system, principals must fill out a Tenure Recommendation Form, in which they provide a written rationale for their recommendation, and explain the evidence used in assigning their grades according to the Four Point Effectiveness Rubric, which is also submitted. When writing their recommendations, principals are given access to DOE data regarding teacher attendance and previous performance evaluations.
“With these changes, instead of me being passive, I have to be proactive or else teachers will not get tenure,” Principal Stanley Teitel said. “The chancellor feels that for the most part, once you get tenure you have a job for life, and now he wants us [administrators] to say that teachers deserve to be granted it.”
The new tenure guidelines allow principals to hire new teachers to fill vacancies arising from denying probationary teachers tenure.
“Now when I have a job opening, I can post it as an open hire and anyone who is interested can apply,” Teitel said. “We can pick them by any process we determine and I can hire anyone from the least seniority to the most.”
English teacher Maya Zabar is in her third probationary year, and has not yet received tenure.
“It’s in my best interests that obtaining tenure as simple as possible, but I don’t know if it’s the best system for education. There are a lot of teachers who get tenure a little too easily and they don’t deserve it,” she said. “I don’t know if [the new policy provides] a better basis [for granting tenure], but it’s a good idea. Having more people evaluate new teachers is a good thing, but how that’s going to be implemented is unclear.”
“I don’t think the new system will change much,” math teacher Gary Rubenstein said. “The new requirements might make lower-performing teachers work harder, but as with most educational changes, people find a way to make it into the old process. [People seeking tenure] have a few more hoops to jump through, but I’m not sure it will make education better.”
Assistant Principal English Eric Grossman expressed limited support for the new guidelines.
“The idea that tenure not simply be pragmatic is a good thing. Anything that prompts principals to make more considered and deliberate choices is better,” he said. “My concern would have to do with potential for misuse. For a thoughtful and careful principal, these changes are wonderful. For a principal who is less meticulous and perhaps more limited in vision, I can imagine a situation in which looking at a particular set of numbers might cause them to deny tenure to someone who is really a good teacher.”
“I also worry about the use of test scores, which is one of the indicators [of teacher performance] because the scores are not good instruments and it has the potential to turn classes into test-prep factories,” Grossman said.
Students interviewed expressed support for the policy changes.
“The new requirement is good because teachers will take their jobs more seriously and pay greater attention to their work, rather than being lazy and slacking off just because they have the guarantee of tenure,” junior Emma Hoffman said.
“Just because a teacher has been there for a while doesn’t necessarily mean that person should keep his or her position. It sometimes becomes a matter of seniority and bad teaching versus a better system of learning,” freshman Eugene Lee said. “Now they will all have to actually teach so that their students will do better on exams and they can keep their jobs.”