Latest NYC Numbers Show Teacher Tenure Not Automatic Anymore

When New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg first came into office, he promised that, as a service to the city’s students, he would work to end teacher “tenure as we know it.” If the numbers released by the Education Department this year are any indication, Bloomberg is well on his way to fulfilling his promise. Compared to 2007, when nearly 89% of all teachers who completed the three-year probationary period received tenure, this year saw nearly half of eligible teachers denied tenure.

Only 55% of three-year veteran teachers were approved for tenure. Forty-two percent are being kept on probation for an additional year, while the remaining teachers were fired. The picture isn’t rosy for those who were held over for another probationary year; of the teachers whose probation was extended last year, fewer than half were awarded tenure this year. A third had their probation extended yet again and 16% were either denied tenure outright, were fired or resigned.

For those who felt that the tenure system was standing in the way of improving teacher quality, the numbers are proving to be good news. Even more good news comes from the fact that these changes seem to be simply one example of a  nationwide trend. In NYC and elsewhere, tenure was once considered automatic, so the idea that it is something that needs to be earned is welcome to advocates of education reform.

A combination of factors — the education reform movement, slow economies that have pinched spending for new teachers, and federal grant competitions like Race to the Topthat encourage states to change their policies — have led lawmakers to tighten the requirements not only for earning tenure, but for keeping it.

In this change of policy, New York is following the example set by Idaho, which did away with tenure for new teachers entirely and now renews contracts for instructors on a yearly basis. This is similar to the system in place in Florida, where teachers must earn annual contracts instead of having them automatically renewed.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was instrumental in the rewrite of one of the oldest teacher tenure laws in the country. When he signed the state tenure reform law in New Jersey, he gave districts and principals more flexibility to fire underperforming teachers.

“There has been a sea change in what’s been happening with the teacher tenure laws,” said Kathy Christie, a senior official with the Education Commission of the States, a policy organization funded by state fees and grants. “In 2011 there were 18 state legislatures that addressed some component of teacher tenure and many of them in a significant way, and that is enormous.”