Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Sham of Tenure and Test Scores

Updated 2 pm

With the NY State legislature rejecting BloomKlein's attempt to tie tenure to test scores on the heels of turning down the congestion pricing plan, the attacks from Bloomberg and Klein are coming fast and furious. This is not really about tenure. Principals have the right to delay tenure for teachers and many are so vulnerable, they can pretty much be let go quite easily.

First of all, an enormous number of teachers are not even in the mix. Gym teachers? No tenure if the kid can't pole vault? Music? Kids can't play Bach or sing like Callas? OUT! Computer teachers? Typing teachers? 20 words a minute? or 30? or 5? OUT! So where's the equity?

But let's look at the kinds of classes that would be affected. High school regents would be the only ones at that level. Now we need a system to compare apples to apples. What rules are in effect to adjust for the differences in schools and between different classes in schools? What impact does attendance have? Should teachers of a first period class, where many more kids don't show up, be held to a different standard than other periods? What about teachers of non-regent classes? What tests are they to be judged on?

In elementary and middle school, the tests they are talking about are math and reading. So are only these teachers in the line of fire? Do social studies, science, gym, computer, etc. get off? What about reading with push-in programs? What if the teacher who comes in daily is tenured and incompetent while the classroom teacher is untenured? What about the literacy or math coach? In sports the coaches are the ones to get fired, not the players.

Of course, the pro BloomKlein press will express outrage while ignoring all these angles.

With all these questions left on the table - and I blame the UFT for not raising them publicly to point to the folly of the plan. Unity Caucus slugs will jump on this statement: "See you chronic complainer, give the union credit for using its political muscle to win this." Without battling it out over the ideology and relying solely on the political sphere, they will win some battles but will lose the war.

It is clear there is another purpose on the part of BloomKlein. They know full well the linking of test scores to tenure will have no impact on the kids. It is a political and ideological ploy so they can say they beat the union and were successful in modifying tenure. Kudos from the anti-union right will follow. It's about PR.

This is also about putting pressure on just those untenured teachers who can influence the only results BloomKlein care about - the ones that they can use to bolster their political case that they really, really did close the achievement gap. The message: DO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO TO MAKE US LOOK GOOD OR YOU WILL NOT GET TENURE!

The next step is to hand out erasers that do not leave a trace.

Update from Leonie Haimson on NYC Education listserve:

I was just interviewed by Marcia Kramer on the teacher tenure/test score controversy – I said basically what I wrote in today’s news wrap-up:

1- standardized test scores alone are not sufficient to judge teachers’ competence, since they have to be examined in relation to a lot of other important factors, including class size and the type of students they have, as well as other evidence of the teacher’s skill and what else is going on in the classroom -- and that this administration cannot be trusted to use this data carefully, given their record on merit pay and school grades.

2- tying teacher tenure to test scores could have very destructive effects, discouraging teachers from taking on struggling or special ed students, and lead to a further loss of morale, with even more test prep replacing real learning.

3- Off camera, I said that a hiatus of two years was good since whatever is decided will be implemented by a new administration that will hopefully be more trustworthy with the use of such data.

Marcia Kramer’s Channel 2 story came out pretty good; except for last line, which is blatantly untrue. Video available here:

For more on this issue, see the blog here. Use test scores for tenure? Not a good idea, with these bumblers.


  1. So you believe that the one objective measure of a teacher's effectiveness should be left out of the equation, leaving tenure decisions up to the administrators you constantly decry as pernicious? That sounds like a recipe for corruption to me. More here:

  2. Obfuscation -- you answer none of the points I make in terms of real classrooms and real schools, not the theoretical model you offer. Tenure is left to admins (pernicious and not)right now. What's the matter, don't you trust all the ones who were empowered under BloomKlein? As you know, there are really no obstructions to denying someone tenure - and who is to stop an admin from looking at scores and coming up with another reason?

    It's all a political ploy and a way for BloomKlein to claim national kudos from the likes of you -"see what they've done? they've attacked tenure." But in the real world in which you claim to live, it would have zero practical impact.

    And shouldn't you be doing Mark Twain with your class now? Hmmm. Guess you must be a high school English teacher at a school in Manhattan.

  3. Socrates:

    If Joe Klein can prove by a peer reviewed research paper that reading and math and other test scores in NYC based on current conditions of testing constitute THE one objective measure of teacher effectiveness many of us will be happy to support your point of view.

  4. Exactly the point. They are pushing things that have no basis or proof - and so many either buy into it and use it for politically motivated ideology is clear. Where's the research on teacher effectiveness? And what has stopped Joel Klein who controls the schools totally from doing studies on the broad range of teacher effectiveness? Where were all the high priced consultants on finding real solutions?

  5. Anon: You're right, it's not the only objective measure. It's one of a few that are out there. Unfortunately, none of them are being used formally in tenure decisions. All of them should be.

    Norm: No, right now I don't trust all principals, including mine, to make decisions based on what's good for kids. I have seen people be denied tenure based on nonsense, and I would prefer that my principal was required to use objective measures for at least part of the determination.

    The high-priced consultants, I imagine, recommended using metrics and eliminating a lot of the subjectivity. Klein's efforts here could very well be the results of their advice.

    Objective measures of employee performance certainly do have basis/proof. They work well in every industry that doesn't have a union trying to prevent objectivity from happening, for fear of exposing their lowest-performing dues-payers.

  6. Tenure will be given based on connections with the school administration. If you have a good connection you will be tenured. This is the way the DOE operates.

  7. socrates reminds me of "no slappz" and having a real discussion with somebody who is so clueless of what goes on in the NYC schools and the teaching profession is a waste of time.

  8. He wants to be a teacher so badly, maybe he can join the Teaching Fellows program. But then he wouldn't be able to blog from Newark during the school day.

  9. "Obsession is the single most wasteful human activity, because with an obsession you keep coming back and back and back to the same question and never get an answer."
    - Norman Mailer

    Mailer must have been reading your blog, Columbo.


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