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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Throughout the New York City and Long Island Area Concern Increases Over Teacher-Tenure Laws

Alarm over planned changes to teacher-tenure laws
BY JOHN HILDEBRAND,, April 3, 2008

Long Island's school board leaders are raising alarms over changes in teacher-tenure laws now being negotiated in Albany - changes they say could potentially tie their hands in evaluating teachers based on students' academic performance.

As proposed, the legal changes would specify criteria for judging teachers' performance - for example, through reviews of their work by other teachers - without stating that supervisors could choose other criteria as well. School board members and administrators say this could lead to court decisions blocking their authority to use test scores as part of teacher evaluations.

"It takes away local control, and that's what scares us," said Stephen Witt, a Hewlett- Woodmere board member and former director of the New York State School Boards Association.

Teacher representatives deny this. Nonetheless, what began three months ago as a fight over teachers' job performance in New York City now has spread across the state.

"What concerns me is that this came up very, very quickly," said Dan Tomaszewski, the board president in Longwood. A former teacher himself, Tomaszewski says substantially more time is needed to debate the proposed changes.

Time could be drawing short, however. The tenure proposals are part of state budget bills including billions of dollars in school aid, and lawmakers are under pressure to act on those measures quickly because the April 1 deadline for approval has already passed.

Both the State Assembly and Senate have approved the tenure changes in separate bills but have not yet given their final OK. Lawmakers yesterday were reluctant to publicly discuss negotiations.

However, one Senate source said, "I think there's an intent to come to some sort of consensus now that will satisfy everyone."

Under current law, teachers typically obtain job tenure after three years' employment. Once tenured, they cannot be fired for cause without due-process hearings. Nearly 40,000 public school teachers work on the Island; several thousand obtain tenure each year.

The current fight started in January, when New York City officials unveiled plans to measure teachers' work through students' improvement on standardized tests. Teacher unions sought to block that move by seeking legislation that would specify certain criteria to be used in tenure decisions, while leaving the choice of other criteria to the state Board of Regents.

Richard Iannuzzi(pictured above), president of the New York State United Teachers Union, yesterday accused school board representatives of being alarmists, adding that they should be spending more time talking about financial aid to impoverished districts.

Said Iannuzzi: "To the school boards, the sky is falling."

Associated Press: School officials claim 'nefarious' effort would make teacher tenure easier. "What I'm reading between the lines here," Iannuzzi said, "is that the chancellor and perhaps the school boards would like is a cheap, quick method for making tenure determinations rather than a strenuous, comprehensive method. That's what applying an inappropriate test does -- it's cheap, quick and dirty."

NYSUT: Uphold high standards of tenure process
NYSUT Media Relations - Update April 2.

Statement by NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi

Fax your legislator now!

"NYSUT is on record supporting a rigorous, comprehensive process for granting tenure. Sadly, Chancellor Klein and the state school boards association made it clear today that they are pressing for a cheap, down-and-dirty process, rather than meeting their obligations to uphold the high standards this process deserves.

"Last year, the Legislature and the governor made a commitment to invest additional resources in the state's neediest schools. At the same time, they instituted new accountability measures - measures that NYSUT supports. The new accountability provisions include setting minimum (not maximum) standards statewide for the process of deciding on tenure.

"The current bill language on tenure isn't new; it delineates accountability provisions put into place last year by the Legislature and the governor.

"The intent was to standardize the statewide process by establishing a foundation for tenure determination, with local districts still free to negotiate requirements based on their own community needs.

"As part of tenure determination, teachers can be evaluated on how they use student test scores to adjust and improve instruction as one measure of teacher effectiveness - absolutely critical at a time when testing occurs at every age and grade level.

"Student tests are designed to be diagnostic, to identify students who need extra help and to help teachers plan instruction. These tests were never intended as a blunt instrument to evaluate teachers. In addition to being a use for which they were never designed, such misapplication would penalize educators who take on difficult teaching assignments and those who work in the neediest, most hard-to-staff schools.

"The process set by the Legislature last year also calls for peer review when possible - one of the highest standards available.

"As always, tenure decisions continue to be made at the district level by administrators, superintendents and school boards. In fact, the current bill language broadens the scope of administrative options.

"The standards established by the Legislature are part of the state's multi-year commitment to providing additional resources and quality instruction to close the achievement gap for students in need. The Legislature should be praised for raising the bar and following through on that commitment."

NYSUT represents more than 585,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

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