New York Teacher Tenure Law Challenged

The Partnership for Educational Justice, an educational advocacy group led by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, is backing six families as they challenge New York State’s teacher tenure law.

The families are filing a lawsuit in Albany, claiming the state’s tenure law is keeping ineffective teachers in the classrooms.  They say this is in violation of their children’s constitutional rights to a firm education.

“The reality is that this lawsuit is a last resort,” parents Carla and John Williams of Rochester said in a written statement announcing the planned lawsuit. “We are acting because leaders in Albany have not.”

According to Denise Jewell Gee writing for The Buffalo News, the lawsuit argues three main points.

First, that New York’s “Last in, First out” policy of letting teachers go based on seniority instead of looking at their effectiveness in the classroom denies children the right to a good teacher.

“The idea of basing district-wide layoffs solely on seniority in this day and age doesn’t make sense to most people,” Brown said in an interview with Gannett’s Albany bureau. “It just doesn’t. It’s why an ineffective teacher can keep his or her job in a layoff situation when a less-senior teacher with a highly effective rating is laid off.”

Also argues is that New York’s policy of giving tenure to teachers after a three-year probationary period is too quick, and does not offer enough time to truly view a teacher’s efficiency in the classroom.  Too often ineffectual teachers slip through the cracks, which brings in the lawsuit’s third main point.

Once an unproductive teacher has tenure, it is a long, costly process to fire that teacher, which is sometimes impossible, writes Justin Murphy for The Democrat and Chronicle.

Currently in New York State, tenure can be taken away if a teacher receives two poor annual reviews in a row.  However, a teacher cannot be fired without a disciplinary hearing.

Jay Leftkowitz, is representing the families in the case, pro bono.

Mr. Lefkowitz said “it boggles the mind” that in the New York education system the vast majority of teachers were rated effective or better last year even though 69% of students in grades three through eight didn’t pass state proficiency tests.

“The system lacks integrity and students are being forced to pay the price,” he said.

According to Casey Seiler for The Times Union, Carl Korn spoke out in favor of the tenure law for the New York State United Teachers Union, in response to the news of the impending lawsuit.

“Tenure laws protect students and good teaching by ensuring that educators aren’t fired for speaking out on behalf of their students or because they engage their students in controversial topics,” Korn said. “Does New York really want its teachers to have to remain silent on controversial issues because their employment would depend on the whim of an administrator or school board?”

Korn suggests that instead of focusing on the tenure law, their efforts would be better served looking into fixing the issues of childhood poverty.

Leslie Brody for The Wall Street Journal writes that the lawsuit comes after a similar decision in California found their tenure law to be unfair, as more “ineffective” teachers were placed in classrooms with poor and minority students, denying these students access to the same type of education as other students within the state.