Percentage of New York City teachers who had tenure denied or extended, 2006-2013
Percentage of New York City teachers who had tenure denied or extended, 2006-2013

For the third year in a row, nearly half of teachers up for tenure last year did not receive it. But the number of teachers outright denied the job protection remained small.

Just under 4,000 teachers were up for tenure in the 2012-2013 school year, with 2,551 of them facing the decision for the first time — fewer than usual because hiring restrictions had been in place three years earlier. Of the total, 53 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion — 44 percent — had their probationary periods extended for another year.

Only 41 of the 2,551 teachers up for tenure for the first time this year were told they could not continue to work in city schools, according to city data. That means the denial rate for teachers in the tenure pool was about 1.6 percent, lower than in each of the past two years. The extension rate for teachers up for tenure for the first time was 44 percent, up slightly since last year.

The high extension rate is a hallmark of the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to make tenure tougher to achieve. Bloomberg vowed in 2010 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. The previous year, 11 percent of teachers up for tenure had been denied or extended. At the start of the mayor’s tenure, that figure had been about 1 percent.

“If you turned back the clock, tenure was an automatic right and not something earned,” Walcott said in a statement today. “But that’s changed.”

Department of Education officials also argue that it makes sense for teachers to spend four or more years on probation, rather than the 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.

Half of the 1,369 teachers up for tenure who previously had their probationary periods extended received tenure this year, according to the city. That figure was higher than last year, the first when the tenure pool included large numbers of teachers who had previously been considered for tenure.

Teachers who had their probations extended last year for the first time were denied tenure 3.5 percent of the time this year. For the 623 teachers in the tenure pool who had received at least two extensions already, the average denial rate was 7 percent, according to the department.

This year was the third in which principals had to justify tenure recommendations to their superintendents, who make the final determination about whether teachers receive tenure. Under the review process put in place in 2010, principals and superintendents consider each teacher’s student performance data, his “practice” as represented by a portfolio of work, and the way that he contributes to the school community.

The student performance subcomponent has been the most contentious change. In the past, some principals reported being told that they could not recommend tenure for teachers whose students had low test scores, and union officials said the tenure tug of war had taken place mostly at schools with many struggling students. This year, principals were encouraged to weigh teachers’ state “growth scores,” available for the first time for teachers in tested grades and subjects, whenever able. Starting this year, those scores will factor into teachers’ annual evaluations.

Walcott said the tenure changes and the evaluation system were both designed to ensure that city teachers are high-performing. ”We are not only keeping our best teachers in city schools through our more rigorous tenure process, but coupled with our new evaluation system, Advance, we’re developing them into even better educators,” he said.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who has said the teachers union supports “a rigorous but fair” system for awarding tenure, said the new data mask the reality that the city loses many teachers well before they come up for tenure, a reality that he blamed on the Bloomberg administration’s emphasis on test scores.

The department’s “self-congratulatory announcement ignores a more important issue,” Mulgrew said. “In the teeth of the worst recession in decades, more than one-third of the over 6,800 teachers hired in 2006-2007 left New York City public schools of their own accord.”