the tenure track

For New York City teachers applying for tenure, success remains far from assured

PHOTO: Monica Disare
United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew endorses Mayor Bill de Blasio for re-election.

The proportion of New York City teachers earning tenure held steady last school year — remaining at its highest point under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s watch.

Sixty-four percent of the 5,450 eligible teachers were granted tenure during the 2015-16 school year, an 11 percent increase since de Blasio took office, according to data obtained by Chalkbeat. But that’s still dramatically lower than a decade ago, when virtually every eligible teacher won the job protection.

Continuing a two-year trend, 34 percent had their tenure decisions deferred. Two percent were rejected outright, effectively ending their teaching careers in the district.

Under Bloomberg, who promised to move toward “ending tenure as we know it,” tenure approval rates plummeted from 89 percent in the 2009-10 school year to 53 percent the year before de Blasio took control of the city school system. Bloomberg argued that too many teachers were earning tenure too quickly, and the city began delaying decisions for a large portion of eligible teachers.

The numbers show that under de Blasio, teachers are slightly more likely to receive tenure as soon as they are eligible — typically after four “probationary” years. But they also show that the mayor has not completely reversed the approach of his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, whose administration made attaining tenure more difficult — not by rejecting tenure applications, but by delaying a larger share of those decisions to a later year.

Over his first three years, de Blasio has slowly changed course. In his first year, tenure rates rose to 60 percent, a 7 percent increase that de Blasio said reflected his administration’s interest in rewarding and retaining top teachers. In his second year, the approval rate increased again to 64 percent — which held steady last school year.

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The number of teachers whose tenure prospects were deferred also remained flat at 34 percent, down from a high of 44 percent in Bloomberg’s final year. Under both administrations, rejection rates have hovered between 2 and 3 percent. (Among the group of teachers whose tenure decisions had been previously delayed, 5 percent were denied last year, down slightly from 6 percent the previous year.)

“This year’s results illustrate a continuation in the trend of active, rigorous tenure decision-making,” according to a presentation provided by the education department. Officials said that deferrals are used as a way to give teachers more time to demonstrate their effectiveness, or when there isn’t enough evidence to make a tenure decision.

But a more important statistic is that the city almost never denies tenure outright, according to David Bloomfield a professor of education, law, and public policy at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Focusing on the relatively low tenure rate “leaves the impression that these teachers are no longer in the classroom — and that’s just false,” he said. “Denials of tenure aren’t going up.”

Tenure rules have been the subject of increased national scrutiny in recent years, and have been subject to lawsuits from Minnesota to New York that claim the protections keep underperforming teachers in the classroom and violate students’ right to an adequate education. (The courts have not necessarily bought that argument.)

For its part, the city’s teachers union said the proportion of educators whose tenure decisions are delayed is not a significant concern. “The more pressing issue,” said United Federation of Teachers chief Michael Mulgrew, is “that thousands of teachers — who earned tenure and are in good standing — decide to walk away from New York City public schools every year because they did not get the support they needed to help the children in their care.”

gates keeper

Gates Foundation to move away from teacher evals, shifting attention to ‘networks’ of public schools

PHOTO: Department for International Development/Russell Watkins

Its massive education funding efforts have helped spread small high schools, charter schools, and efforts to overhaul teacher evaluations. Now, the Gates Foundation is going in a new direction.

In a speech Thursday, Bill Gates said the foundation is about to launch a new, locally driven effort to help existing public schools improve.

The idea is to fund “networks” that help public schools improve by scrutinizing student achievement data and getting schools to share their best ideas, he said. Of the $1.7 billion the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will spend on U.S. education over the next five years, more than 60 percent will go to these networks — dwarfing the amount to be spent on charter schools, about 15 percent.

Gates said that’s both because he wants to go where other philanthropy isn’t and because the foundation’s strategy is to affect as many students as possible. (Only 5 percent of U.S. public-school students attended a charter school in 2014.)

“In general, philanthropic dollars there … on charters is fairly high. We will be a bit different. Because of our scale, we feel that we need to put the vast majority of our money into these networks of public schools,” Gates said. (“We love charters,” he quickly added.)

The Gates Foundation is a supporter of Chalkbeat.

The strategy appears to be a nationwide expansion of the work Bob Hughes, the Gates Foundation’s K-12 education chief, did in New York City as the longtime head of an organization called New Visions for Public Schools. New Visions started several dozen district and charter schools but also created tools for schools to check on student progress that were later adopted by New York City itself.

Gates offered other examples: Chicago’s Network for College Success, which works with about 15 high schools; the LIFT Network in Tennessee, which includes 12 school districts; and the CORE Districts in California. The foundation plans to fund 20 to 30 such networks, Gates said.

Also notable is where Gates said the philanthropy will no longer be sending money: toward efforts to encourage new teacher evaluation systems, which in some states have faced fierce political resistance in recent years.

The foundation’s new work to support school networks will be driven by local ideas about how to create the best schools, Gates said.

“The challenge is that, even that piece when it’s done very well, the teacher in the classroom — that is not enough to get the full result we want,” Gates said. “And this is something that I’m sure has been obvious to all of you. But it’s really the entire school, where the leadership, the development, the overall culture, the analysis of what’s going on with the kids — it’s that school level where you have to get everything coming together.”

The final quarter of that $1.7 billion will go toward research into how kinds of technology could improve student learning and ways to improve math instruction and career preparation.

Results are in

Tennessee’s largest district sees 1 in 5 young students meeting expectations on new TNReady test

About a fifth of students are meeting expectations in math and English in grades 3 to 8 in Shelby County Schools, according to state data released Thursday.

That’s the lowest of the state’s four urban districts, though not far behind Nashville schools at about 26 and 28 percent in English and math respectively.

The test results are significant because they will serve as a baseline for the state’s new TNReady test meant to be more rigorous and better align with national standards like the ACT and the nation’s report card. But the switch to the new test was especially disruptive for the district’s turnaround program for its lowest achieving students, which until now showed significant progress compared to other low-performing schools in the district.

The Memphis district fared better in science with 40 percent of students meeting state expectations, though guidelines on what students should know in science remained unchanged under the new test. State and local leaders had been bracing for lower scores as educators adjust curriculum to fit the new standards.

Specifically, here’s how many Shelby County Schools students in grades 3 to 8 met state expectations:

  • 20.4 percent in English
  • 21.7 percent in math
  • 40.8 percent in science

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said the results will be helpful as the district strategizes on ways to improve student achievement.

“As educators, our focus is always on helping our students grow academically,” he said in a statement. “This baseline year of TNReady results shows us where we have opportunities to provide additional support.”

Elementary and middle school students in the district’s turnaround initiative, the Innovation Zone, scored the same in math and English compared to other low-performing district-run schools identified by the state that aren’t in the program. The results suggest iZone leaders have as much to adjust as other schools in the district, despite the extra flow of resources per school.

Percentage of iZone elementary and middle school students in 15 schools who scored “on track or mastered,” meaning they met the state’s standards:

  • 11.3 percent in English
  • 14.4 percent in math
  • 38 percent in science

Elementary and middle school students in 33 historically low-performing schools run by the district who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 11.1 percent in English
  • 14.2 percent in math
  • 29.2 percent in science

The district’s charter schools for grades 3 to 8 fared worse in English and math than district-run schools and slightly better in science. Last year, eight of the district’s 45 charter schools who took the test earlier this year were on the state’s list of bottom 10 percent scoring schools under the previous exam.

Charter elementary and middle school students who scored “on track or mastered”:

  • 14.9 percent in English
  • 15.2 percent in math
  • 43.1 percent in science

Scores for 15 schools for various subjects were not publicly released because each achievement category had less than 5 percent or greater than 95 percent of students at the school, according to state spokeswoman Sara Gast.

The scores released Thursday reflect corrected scores for 9,400 students statewide and just over 1,000 in Shelby County Schools after the state’s testing vendor Questar ran an incorrect scan for some high school subjects.