This story originally appeared in Brookings.
Traditionally, principals have used much too low a standard when granting tenure, viewing the probationary period merely as an opportunity to weed out the worst malpractice. Under the new law in New York, the length of the probationary period will be lengthened from three to four years and no teacher rated “ineffective” in their fourth year would be able to earn tenure.
Therefore, much depends on what it means to be designated “ineffective.” As New York learned last year when 96 percent of teachers were rated “effective” or “highly effective”, a vague standard is equivalent to no standard. The department should specify that a probationary teacher is “ineffective” during their fourth year of teaching if: (i) a teacher’s average student achievement gain during their second through fourth year of teaching falls below that of the average first-year teacher in their district or (ii) the classroom observations done by external observers during their second through fourth year of teaching falls below that of the average first-year teacher.
Most teachers improve their practice during their initial years of teaching. However, if, by their fourth year of teaching, a probationary teacher has not moved beyond the performance of the average novice in their district in terms of student achievement growth and measured classroom practice, students would be better off on average if the district were to commit to fill that teacher’s assignment with a novice teacher every year instead. A fourth year probationary teacher who has been no more effective than a novice teacher should not receive the long-term commitment which accompanies tenure...