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Tenure rate holds steady, but just 42 teachers denied on first try

The city’s two-year-old crackdown on “tenure as we know it” continued this past year with nearly half of the teachers up for tenure not receiving it.

Just under 4,000 teachers were up for tenure in the 2011-2012 school year, fewer than usual because hiring restrictions sharply cut the number of new teachers in 2009. Of them, 55 percent received tenure and 3 percent were denied it, effectively barring them from working in city schools. The remaining portion — 42 percent — had their probationary periods extended for another year.

The extension rate was slightly higher than in 2011, when 39 percent of teachers up for tenure had their decisions deferred under a revamped tenure evaluation process. But it is five times the extension rate from 2010, which was the first time that the city used the deferral option in large numbers.

Mayor Bloomberg vowed in 2010 to move toward on “ending tenure as we know it,” a change he favors because teachers who do not yet have tenure can more easily be fired.

Last year, Chancellor Dennis Walcott predicted that more teachers would be denied tenure this year.

UPDATE: But  the denial rate for teachers in the tenure pool for the first time actually fell. Last year, 104 teachers eligible for tenure for the first time were denied it, for a denial rate of 2.2 percent. This year, that rate was 1.9 percent, meaning that just 42 teachers up for tenure for the first time were told they could not continue to work in city schools.

The Department of Education’s chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, said today that the department had no firm goals for how many teachers should receive or be denied tenure.

“This is not about hitting some numerical target at all,” he said during a call with reporters. “What we’re asking principals to do is treat this as a big decision about: Is this teacher ready for lifetime guarantee of employment?”

He added, “We are very pleased with the level of care and serious rigor that principals are applying as they make these decisions.”

Last year, department officials briefed reporters about the results in person and Bloomberg touted the numbers on his weekly radio show. Today, the city provided information to reporters in a press release that contained no statement from Bloomberg.

“I’d like to congratulate the teachers who were granted tenure this year, and commend principals who are demanding higher standards,” Walcott said in a statement. “Receiving tenure is no longer an automatic right, and our new approach ensures that teachers who are granted tenure have earned it.”

This year was the second 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. Last year, some principals reported being told that they could not recommend tenure for teachers whose students had low test scores. And this year, some teachers said their tenure recommendations were rescinded — and then restored — even after their superintendent had signed off on them. Union officials said the tenure tug of war had taken place mostly at schools with many struggling students.

Poor student performance is one data point that might cause a teacher to be flagged in the department’s personnel system, Polakow-Suransky said today. He said low scores on the defunct Teacher Data Reports, “value-added” assessments that were produced from 2008 to 2010 for reading and math teachers in grades 3 to 8, continued to flag teachers, as do previous unsatisfactory ratings.

Of the 95 teachers up for tenure who previously had received a U-rating, just 3 percent received tenure. Nearly a quarter were denied tenure while 74 percent were given an extra year of probation.

Next year, Polakow-Suransky said, principals would be encouraged to use “growth scores” that the state generated for some teachers for the first time this week, even if there is still no universal evaluation system in place that takes the scores into account.

“Every piece of data that we have, we give to principals,” he said.

But he said no single data point would trump a holistic assessment of teacher quality and that the department had not barred teachers at any schools from receiving tenure. He said teachers and principals agreed in 95 percent of teachers’ cases and that department officials sometimes stepped in to broker consensus.

In many cases, the resolution was that teachers should spend another year in the classroom before being reassessed for tenure. It makes sense to 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, Polakow-Suransky said.

Of the teachers who whose tenure decisions were deferred last year, 42 percent received tenure this year, meaning that 74 percent of the teachers up for tenure in 2011 have now received it. Four percent of those deferred last year were denied tenure this year, and another 12 percent left the city’s teaching corps.

“If teachers improve their practice and get to the point where they are ready to earn tenure, that’s a good thing,” Polakow-Suransky said.

In total, department officials said, 212 of the teachers up for tenure this year had already had their probations extended twice. Seven had already been deferred three times. Only about 40 percent of teachers deferred twice before received tenure this year, according to the department.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the teachers union supports “a rigorous but fair” system for awarding tenure. But he said the tenure crackdown masks the reality that the city loses many teachers well before they come up for tenure and suggested that if the Department of Education played a more active role in helping teachers improve, more would earn tenure.

“These numbers — combined with the fact that nearly one-third of the teachers hired for the 2008-2009 school year walked out the door before they were even eligible for tenure — demonstrate that the administration has yet to figure out how to provide new teachers with the proper supports that will help them become more successful,” Mulgrew said.