The Tenure Headgame

Jul 1, 2019 by

The probationary period for public school teachers is the most protracted and arguably the most stringent of any group of civil service workers in New York City. It is generally quadruple that of uniformed service employees, who by an  overwhelmingly percentage pass this time in a  single year, which obviously is sufficient, since with very few exceptions, they remain in good-standing for the duration of their careers.

One year of intense scrutiny should be enough to root out non-performing and unfit teachers also.

Teachers complete their probationary period to achieve tenure only after a minimum of four years, and a sizeable percentage have that period extended, often for reasons that have nothing to do with doubts about their worthiness. For instance, at the end of a teacher’s fourth year, a new principal is appointed who doesn’t care to rely on the judgement of their predecessor but chooses to want to see the teacher in action for themselves and make up their own mind, and subjecting the teacher to further delay because of the new principal’s ego, more than anything else.

That is demoralizing and unnecessary.

During the probationary period, teachers are monitored closely by numerous administrators who may observe them in action at any time as often as they wish. There are many conferences and professional development mandates.  The general public doesn’t know how onerous the process can be.

Former Mayor Bloomberg made no secret of his firm wish to eradicate due-process protections for teachers and therefore was a foe of the very concept of tenure. He pursued that goal with the same zeal he used to exempt himself from the term-limits by which other New York City mayors are restricted. He made it clear down the chain of command that he expected a sharp drop in the granting of tenure or else principals would have hell to pay.

He wanted statistics that would serve as a prop for his public relations campaign. It was a “self-fulfilling prophecy”, in that his career-minded school leaders yielded to his direction, found fault with those teachers and rated them accordingly, thereby creating the publicity optic demanded by Bloomberg and his former chancellors Klein and Walcott.

The percentage of tenure-eligible candidates whose applications were successful quickly plummeted by almost 40 percent.  In the years since Mayor Bloomberg’s unlamented departure, that percentage has increased, though it hasn’t reached its pre-Bloomberg levels. In fact, the minimum number of years of service required for tenure in license increased.

Positive statistics, such as higher rates of teachers be granted tenure, should not be viewed as suspicious, but rather as a vindication of trust, as New Yorkers of good-will realize.

Because of the harsh suppression of tenure embraced by Mayor Bloomberg was driven by philosophy and ideology, it has gained currency with anti-public school and union-bashing entities that consider Mayor DeBlasio soft on incompetence and in cahoots with the teacher union, because their ranks are no longer being slashed and burned to the same extent by venal administrators out to establish their “creds” as enforcers.

Teachers by and large dreamed of entering their profession, trained hard and long and give their all in the classroom.  The means of earning their livelihood should not be frivolously snatched. When tenure is not being used as a “political football”, but conferred on merit, reactionaries and fake “reformers” scramble and go on the offensive, sometimes to the courts, asserting that tenure is an affront to children because it is a barrier to their access to quality education.

What a disgusting and disingenuous claim!

Rates of retention are a more reliable indicator of the professional environment than are the tenure numbers.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew knows the score and where the proper focus should be.  He notes that many thousands of New York City public school teachers, including those tenured, quit their jobs each year.

The system has not “discontinued” them; they have done so themselves and that points to something radically wrong. 

We must identify and analyze the reasons, address them and work towards resolving what is clearly a disturbing situation.

Ron Isaac

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