Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been on a campaign to make sure that the granting of tenure in New York City’s public schools is not the pedagogical equivalent of social promotion—something conferred simply for showing up. His efforts appear to be producing results: The number of teachers denied tenure has nearly tripled over the past year. This is good news.
The mayor has made it clear that he wants tenure to be something earned, not something regarded as an entitlement. The problem is that not everybody is so enthusiastic. Last April, state legislators made it more difficult to deny tenure, by barring test scores from consideration in the tenure process. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein rightly called the move “unconscionable.”
It is a welcome sign to see City Hall moving in the direction of rigorous tenure review despite political opposition. The mayor and chancellor both have made themselves more accountable to students, parents and voters, and both have demanded more from students. It only makes sense to apply more rigorous standards to teachers. One principal told the New York Post that this was the first time a chancellor has ever moved so aggressively to make sure only competent teachers are granted the equivalent of a lifetime job.
Among the innovations in recent years is an e-mail system that can let principals know the names of teachers under consideration for tenure. Principals dissatisfied with the work of a teacher will get the chance to block tenure or have the teacher’s probationary period extended. That is a creative way to make sure that this very important process is thoroughly vetted.
Most teachers, at the end of the day, do achieve tenure. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it speaks to the quality of people in the city’s classrooms. But as in any other profession, there are teachers who have made a poor career choice. They should not be given tenure simply because they show up for work. Moreover, teacher salaries have gone up by almost 40 percent under the Bloomberg administration. The job of teaching in the public schools of New York City is now attracting thousands of applicants. It is only reasonable that we not grant tenure to teachers not able to perform in the classroom. Tenure should be treated as recognition for those qualified to teach our children.