Op-Ed: Protesting New York’s Tenure Law

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In the October 17, 2014 issue of Soundview Rising

Protesting New York’s Tenure Law by Peggy Godfrey

For many years academic debate has occurred over whether teaching is an art or science. It appears now the criteria has shifted when evaluation of teachers and their students is considered. The attacks on teacher effectiveness are bolstered by insistence on using test scores for evaluating both teacher effectiveness and student progress. There is less heard about such concepts such as students’ plateaus in learning, readiness, creative activities, individual differences or limited English proficiency. Because of levels of achievement demanded on language arts and mathematics achievement tests it is well document that teachers have been spending less time teaching other subjects such as social studies.

Supervisors are required to rate teachers on many criteria. Students often are faced with attaining predetermined achievement test score levels.to be promoted.

But after many protests by parents and teachers on the pressures of this testing mandate on both students and teachers, some districts such as New York City, have a new policy which suggests standardized test scores can not be the only basis for making promotion decisions. Under Common Core, teachers were also supposed to be rated on student test scores, but for the next few years in New York State these test scores cannot be used to rate teachers. The trend is evident though, and rating teachers and students on test scores alludes that there is a scientific basis to the process. This is a theory that needs a lot of study before this conclusion is reached. Recently a group of school superintendents asked the state to remove a “flawed” mandated teacher evaluation system, while other groups are filing lawsuits to remove teacher tenure.

Reaction to the need for greater student achievement has not been uniform. While some principals and administrators have sided with teachers, suggesting the test results should not be the criteria for evaluating teachers and students, others have sided with the private companies or individuals who want achievement tests to be the evaluation process used to measure both students’ and their teachers’ effectiveness.

On one side of the issue are various advocacy groups who feel teachers, particularly New York teachers, have excessively strong job protections. Since the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) represents 75,000 educations in New York City, they have responded by saying tenure laws help to protect teachers against unfair treatment and firing. There is a process that allows city officials to remove teachers who are ineffective.

California has recently removed tenure. Because there is some sentiment that the tenure law makes it difficult to remove under performing teachers, Mona Davids, President of the New York City Parents Union, filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court criticizing “lackluster’ teachers and blaming this condition on the tenure laws. A second lawsuit was filed by television anchor Campbell Brown saying the teacher evaluation process is not adequate because a teacher gains tenure in three years It should be noted that New York State’s tenure law was stronger than the California law.

Since there is so much controversy emanating from the federal level over the Common Core standards and curriculum,, the UFT and other groups have protested these newly created mandates. Principals, it has been suggested, can “strong arm” teachers to resign.

Tenure laws will continue to be attacked. Some teachers have voluntarily removed themselves. And the media has been accused of using “fuzzy math” to build their case against teachers. Criticism of the tenure law process for removing teachers is bolstered by the public belief that too few teachers are fired every year. There are also those that believe an “amazing” teacher can help students with academic difficulties.

However, the argument remains that tenure is really due process. States without tenure, e.g. Mississippi, have lower achievement scores. There are many facets which impact learning which are beyond the teachers’ control such as large class size, crime and poverty. Statistics tell us that when a teacher is brought up on charges, only a small number win acquittal.

Let us hope reasonable people will reach reasonable conclusions. Education of youth is important for the future of this glorious country.