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Amid tenure crackdown, some targeted teachers get good news

Later this week, when the Department of Education announces the number of teachers who received tenure last year, it’s likely that the tenure rate will be lower than ever.

It used to be that virtually all teachers who completed their third year were awarded tenure, which confers added rights. But ever since Mayor Bloomberg vowed to end “tenure as we know it” in 2010, fewer teachers have gotten tenure each year. Last year, fewer than 60 percent of teachers up for tenure received it; most of the rest had their probationary periods extended, sometimes for a second time.

But for a group of teachers who were told earlier this year that their tenure recommendations were being rescinded, there is better news. They’ll be receiving tenure after all.

In June, GothamSchools reported that tenure-eligible teachers working in some struggling schools were having their probationary periods extended, even when the superintendent, who is supposed to make the final call, agreed with their principal’s recommendation for tenure.

A teacher from Automotive High School, a low-performing high school that the city tried to close, said his colleagues got him cake to celebrate after his principal informed him this spring that the tenure recommendation she had passed along to the superintendent, Karen Watts, had been approved.

But weeks later, the teacher said he was told that the recommendation was taken off the table and that his probation would be extended instead.

The same thing happened to two of his colleagues at Automotive, and union officials said they were hearing similar reports from teachers across the city. The union said the cases had one thing in common: All of the schools where teachers’ tenure recommendations were rescinded had received a “D” or “F” on the city’s progress reports.

Union president Michael Mulgrew said he heard from principals that their superintendents were under pressure not to grant tenure to teachers in low-rated schools. But a department spokesman said no directive along those lines had come from the central administration.

And in an unusual reversal, the teachers said their superintendents apparently had a change of heart. A few weeks before school ended for the summer, they learned that they’d be awarded tenure after all.

At Automotive, there was no celebration this time around, according to the teacher, who asked to remain anonymous because he said he didn’t feel fully protected yet.

“I’m not officially tenured until the beginning of the school year,” said the teacher. “And, as we’ve learned, anything can happen.”

A spokeswoman for the department said the city did not receive any reports about tenure decisions being changed.

Bloomberg’s war on tenure has been part of a larger effort to make it easier to remove low-performing teachers. He has questioned whether is tenure is even necessary. The union maintains that the protection that tenure confers is a crucial part of due process.

To crack down on the ease in which tenure was granted, department officials first created a new rubric in 2010 that required principals to explain their reasons for recommending tenure more throughly.

Then, last year, pressed by the city to make tenure even harder, superintendents began rejecting more tenure recommendations from principals. Perhaps as a result, the portion of teachers who didn’t receive tenure jumped 33 percentage points over the previous year.Altogether, 43 percent of teachers up for tenure in 2011 were denied or deferred, compared to just less than 1 percent in 2006.

Department officials won’t say if this year’s rate will be higher, but Chancellor Dennis Walcott himself offered a prediction last summer.

“You’ll see the number probably go up again next year as far as those denied,” he said.

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