Friday, March 28, 2008

The Tenure Question

I recently wrote about a colleague who told me a change in venue brought his Regents passing rate from about 30% to a much more respectable 90%. He claims he did not at all change his teaching methods, but his new audience was simply much more receptive. Was he a bad teacher at the previous locale? You could perhaps conclude that, but his 32% passing rate was the highest in his old school.

Do his new passing rates make him a great teacher? Not according to him. He claims to be the same teacher he was then, albeit a little older.

Now NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is fighting tooth and nail for the right to be able to grant or deny tenure on the basis of test scores. How do you do that fairly when a simple relocation produces such a radical change in results?

Shall we trust in the good graces of this chancellor? Isn't he the same guy who unilaterally violated the contract via blanket denial of sabbaticals (till the UFT dragged him to court and won)? Isn't he the same guy who's failed to deliver any substantive class size reduction? Isn't he the same guy who went to Albany in order to preserve his right to hire and retain thousands of teachers who'd failed basic competency tests? Is that the sort of person you want to judge teacher quality?

Isn't this the same guy who instituted three separate reorganizations and failed to make any significant improvement in scores he couldn't manipulate? And he now wishes to judge others on a standard he himself has abjectly failed?

Let's simply forget about Chancellor Klein's various double-standards for a moment and examine the situation. According to the DoE, only 1 percent of teachers are denied tenure after three years (and who knows how many get it after its extended?). Whose fault is that?

The overwhelming majority of teachers I know are competent, at the very least. But I've seen some teachers who'd never have landed a Burger King gig, due to the more rigorous interview process. Such teachers would never have been hired in Long Island schools. Whose fault is that?

Tenure can and should be enforced. If the city fails to identify those who don't deserve it, that's plainly the city's fault. If the city chooses to hire based on college credits, or the ability to meet whatever reduced standard it's negotiated with Albany, that's the city's fault too. If the city chooses to hire through bus ads, 800 numbers, intergalactic recruitment schemes, or the capacity to draw breath, that's on them as well.

There was a time when city requirements were higher than those of the state. In fact, I had to take city tests and face the Board of Examiners to get two different city licenses, and that was no walk in the park. Want to "experiment" with "reforms?" Why not try paying the highest salary in the area, rather than the lowest, and utilizing the highest standards, rather than the lowest? Maybe that would work. Who knows? After all, it's just an experiment.

I'm not UFT President Randi Weingarten's biggest fan, not by any means. But tenure issues are not her fault--they're strictly the city's own doing. Tenure laws are enforced in Long Island--I know many teachers who've failed to get it, and every one of them now works for New York City. I can't really attest to their quality, or lack thereof. The obviously bad teachers I know would never have been hired on the island (let alone Taco Bell).

Personally, I think Chancellor Klein would be lost without bad teachers, and despite all his posturing and bluster, will keep them on forever, sending random others to the rubber room as long as possible. After all, without bad teachers, who in the world would he and the mayor blame for their chronic inability to substantively improve this system?

Thanks to Schoolgal
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