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New Teacher Effectiveness and Tenure

Tingley-021 colorA new report on teacher effectiveness may support the traditional three-year probation period before teachers are awarded tenure.

Researchers tracked 7600 new teachers of math and English/language arts in New York City from 2000-2006.  All of them taught 4th or 5th grade during that time.  Cutting to the chase, researchers found that beginning teachers who were rated in the bottom 20% from the outset remained in the bottom 20% after five years based on value-added measures.  Teachers who were high performing at the beginning remained high performing after five years.  The research took into account student demographics like gender, ethnicity, poverty, and attendance.

The work was conducted by Allison Atteberry, a research associate at the University of Virginia; Susanna Loeb, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at  Stanford University; and James H. Wyckoff, an education professor at the University of Virginia.  The researchers presented their findings at the CALDER (The National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research) conference in February.

Tim R. Sass, an economics and public policy research professor at Georgia State University, says in Education Week that if schools let the lowest performers go after the first two or three years, “Even if you’re not going to make lots of mistakes, you will make some.”  However, says Sass, based on the new research findings, a school could get rid of 30% of teachers who are rated least effective five years out while retaining all of the teachers rated in the top 10%.

The data is new, and researchers are not encouraging principals to let struggling teachers go after a couple of years.  Still, researchers insist, the results are compelling.

In New York State, where the research was conducted, teachers generally are awarded tenure after three years.  As a superintendent, I nearly always made the decision to let new teachers go after two years if I Teacher-evaluationdidn’t see real growth.  Some may say I was too quick, but my experience led me to believe if I wasn’t seeing improvement after two years, I probably wouldn’t see it after five or ten or twenty.  In addition, teachers who are denied tenure after three years have a hard time finding another teaching job.  Perhaps my judgment was incorrect, but maybe some teachers I dismissed would find more success in another environment, I thought.

This research, of course, supports what I already thought, and quick acceptance of it, while reaffirming, is dangerous.  But granting tenure to mediocre teachers is even more dangerous.  If you haven’t seen a quality job after three years, it’s not likely that you will after 5 or 10, let alone 20.

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