Tenure Reform Increases Voluntary Attrition of Less Effective Teachers in NYC, New Study Finds

June 11, 2014

A new study of New York City schools shows that recent teacher tenure reforms dramatically reduced the portion of teachers approved for tenure. Many relatively ineffective teachers whose probationary period was extended instead of being granted tenure voluntarily left their teaching positions.

In the study, published as a working paper on the Teacher Policy Research website, researchers from the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and the Stanford University Graduate School of Education used data for New York City public schools to examine a reform initiated in 2009 that altered the process by which teachers are granted tenure following their third year of teaching. Prior to 2009 nearly all eligible teachers were granted tenure at the end of their first three years of teaching, known as the probationary period.

“The receipt of tenure had become an expectation for nearly all teachers” explained Luke Miller, research assistant professor of education at the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia and one of the three authors. “Tenure was rarely based on strong evidence of accomplishment.”

The reform changed two key components of the tenure policy. First, it provided those making the tenure decision with more information on teacher effectiveness including a district-developed Effectiveness Framework, a tool designed to guide principals and superintendents through a rigorous process for determining which teachers have earned tenure. Second, it provided principals with increased responsibility and accountability of ensuring that tenured teachers met tenure performance standards.

The researchers tracked the effects of the policy during the four years following the reform. During this period, the percent of teachers granted tenure dropped from more than 90 percent to less than 60 percent while a substantially greater share of teachers had their tenure period extended. While denial of tenure increased from two percent in 2008 to just three percent in 2012, teachers whose probationary period was extended rose from less than 5 percent to over 40 percent of teachers. Extended teachers were given an additional year to demonstrate effective teaching consistent with the Effectiveness Framework.

Despite not altering the proportion of teachers denied tenure, the tenure reform meaningfully affected the composition of teachers. Researchers found that teachers who were extended were more than 50 percent more likely to transfer to another school within the district or to exit teaching in the district than otherwise similar teachers who were granted tenure. The authors compared the effectiveness of extended teachers who transferred or exited to all teachers entering these schools to assess whether the quality of teachers improves as a result of the policy.

“The extended teachers who leave their schools were less effective than the teachers likely to replace them” said Susanna Loeb, professor of education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, a coauthor. “Likely replacement teachers are much more likely to be rated Effective or Highly Effective than the extended teachers who leave.”

The effects of the reform on the teacher workforce have been particularly meaningful in schools with higher percentages of black students because they were more likely to have teachers extended rather than granted tenure.

“Because the policy had the effect of increasing the exit of extended teachers, schools with a larger concentration of black students are especially likely to benefit from the policy, as likely replacement teachers will be more effective than extended teachers who leave, leading to an improvement of teaching in these schools” added Jim Wyckoff, a coauthor and professor of education in the Curry School at the University of Virginia.

Overall, the reform illustrates that improving principals’ access to information on teacher effectiveness during tenure review process can affect the composition of the workforce, even while the tenure denial rate remains unchanged.

“This mechanism of having access to more information on teachers to inform the tenure process is available in most school districts,” Wyckoff said.

Loeb, Miller, and Wyckoff are continuing their study of the NYC tenure reform to better understand principals’ and teachers’ reactions to the reform as well as the reform’s implications for teacher performance and student achievement.

Leslie Booren, Managing Director, EdPolicyWorks at the University of Virginia
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