Education International
Education International

USA: New York City teachers denied tenure

published 24 August 2012 updated 3 September 2012

EI’s national affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA) have reacted to the New York City Education Department’s declaration that nearly half of New York City teachers reaching the end of their probations were denied tenure this year.

Only 55 per cent of eligible teachers, having worked for at least three years, earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 per cent in 2007. An additional 42 per cent this year were kept on probation for another year, and 3 per cent were denied tenure and fired. Of those whose probations were extended last year, fewer than half won tenure this year, a third were given yet another year to prove themselves, and 16 per cent were denied tenure or resigned.

The totals reflect a reversal in the way tenure is granted not only in New York City but around the country. While tenure was once considered nearly automatic, it has now become something teachers have to earn. Tenure decisions are increasingly based on how the teachers’ students score on standardised tests, as well as mandatory classroom observations by principals or other administrators.

Tenure, a defence against discrimination and arbitrary

Tenure does not afford any advantages in pay or job assignments, or guarantee permanent employment. Its most important benefit is to grant teachers certain protections against dismissal without justification, including the right to a hearing before an arbitrator. It is an important defence against indiscriminate or politically marked hiring and firing.

Unsupported educators leave the profession

Michael Mulgrew, President of the United Federation of Teachers, which is a member of the EI affiliate AFT, indicated that he had always supported a “rigorous but fair” process of granting tenure. However, large numbers of teachers were quitting the profession early in their careers, a sign to him that the city had not yet figured out how to help them succeed.

According to the union, of the 5,231 teachers hired in the 2008-9 school year, nearly 30 per cent had quit by the end of their third years. There are roughly 75,000 teachers in New York City schools, the nation’s largest public school system.

“If New York City hopes to have a great school system, it will need to come up with better methods of helping teachers develop, not only at the beginning but throughout their careers,” Mulgrew added.

Improvement of teacher recruitment and retention policies needed

“Every student deserves qualified, caring, committed teachers,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel underlined. “There should be a process that protects good teachers from being removed for arbitrary reasons. We need to support teachers who do a great job, provide intensive training for struggling teachers and create a fair and efficient process for their removal if they don’t improve.”

He also stated that education reform discussions should not be limited to fair dismissal policies: “We need to think more broadly about the things we know will help us be successful in educating students, including greater focus on recruiting the right people into teaching. We need to develop rigorous and high-quality programs that prepare teachers to be effective from the first day they enter the classroom. Consider the large number of American educators who leave the profession in the first five years—as much as 47 per cent say researchers. That figure alone indicates a clear need to address recruitment and support.”

Van Roekel went on to say that “educators need ongoing training, comprehensive evaluation systems and resources to help every student succeed. We must invest in the priorities that build the foundation for student learning, including smaller class sizes, early childhood education, up-to-date textbooks, computers, and a well-rounded curriculum. There is no silver bullet solution to improve student learning. We must work together to find sustainable solutions that work now and in the future.”

“EI firmly opposes austerity plans in place worldwide for several months, which profoundly affect education, and fights insecurity in the teaching profession,” also said EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen. “It defends the recruitment of education staff based on permanent employment of tenured staff with the guarantee of an appropriate status, and demands that all staff kept in insecure situations be granted tenure.”

Secure situation for teachers linked to quality education

The EI Resolution: in favour of stable jobs with the appropriate status and quality education! No job cuts or redundancies among education staff! adopted at the EI 6th World Congress, held in July 2011, deplores that job security is not guaranteed for millions of teachers.

This, it says, goes against the ILO/UNESCO recommendation of 1966, according to which “stability of employment and security of tenure in the profession are essential in the interests of education as well as in that of the teacher and should be safeguarded even when changes in the organisation of or within a school system are made.”

It also reneges on the recommendation of 1997 on the condition of staff in higher education: “Security of employment in the profession, including tenure or its functional equivalent, where applicable, should be safeguarded as it is essential to the interests of higher education as well as those of higher-education teaching personnel.”