Tenure Reform Works

At a time when the city’s jobless rate remains higher, at 10 percent, than the national average, every additional pink slip represents a setback in the long, tortured road to recovery.

That said, taxpayers, parents and students should be delighted to hear that the city is serious about getting rid of ineffective teachers. The Department of Education recently announced that nearly half the teachers who were eligible to receive tenure this year were denied the lifetime appointment. That’s a milestone achievement for a process that used to be treated as a fait accompli by teachers and administrators alike.

Only 55 percent of teachers who finished their three-year probationary period this year were granted tenure. Compare that figure with the success rate in 2007, when 97 percent of teachers received the educational equivalent of a Supreme Court appointment. True, even tenured teachers can lose their jobs in a fiscal crisis. But just try to fire one for cause, even if the cause involves unethical behavior. It rarely happens.

That’s why teaching is a world unto itself, and why administrators have to be extremely vigilant about the tenure process. That sounds obvious, but as any educator can tell you, the tenure process has become exactly that—a genuine process, with the expectation of measurable results—only in the last few years.

Mayor Bloomberg promised to deliver a complete overhaul of the tenure process several years ago. The results speak for themselves. New teachers now understand that they have to prove themselves to earn tenure. Showing up in the classroom with a measurable pulse is no longer the only qualification for lifetime appointment.

New York is just one of many jurisdictions around the country that has embraced tenure reform as a vital component to broader school reforms. Some districts have abolished tenure entirely; others have enforced a more rigorous process so that only the best are rewarded.

Needless to say, these necessary changes have not won the approval of teachers’ unions and other advocates of the status quo. A group calling itself New Yorkers for Great Public Schools has launched a typically ham-handed campaign to block further school reforms such as charter schools and teacher evaluations. The group’s leaders have decided to link Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to those in New York who support Mayor Bloomberg’s reforms. The group hopes that by associating Mr. Romney with school reform, New Yorkers will recoil in horror and return to business as usual in the classroom.

There’s no chance of that happening, but the reactionaries have every right to dream about returning to the days of unaccountability, poor student performance and lifetime appointments handed out like soccer trophies—you get one just for showing up.

The folks at New Yorkers for Great Public Schools think they can demonize school reform by associating it with Mr. Romney. It would not occur to them that they are doing Mr. Romney a great favor—if he supports the changes that have been brought about in New York schools, well then, he might not be such a bad guy after all, no?
That, of course, is not their intent. That gives you an idea of how truly blind they are.