Study: Tenure Reform Increases Voluntary Attrition of Less Effective Teachers in NYC

Teacher sitting at a table with students teaching them math

Researchers from U.Va. and Stanford found that a more rigorous tenure process in New York City public schools was effective in increasing the overall quality of teaching.

July 8, 2014

A new study of New York City public schools shows that recent reforms have dramatically reduced the portion of teachers approved for tenure as many relatively ineffective teachers whose probationary periods were extended voluntarily left their teaching positions.

In the study, published as a working paper on the Teacher Policy Research website, researchers from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education used data for New York City public schools to examine a 2009 reform 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,” said Luke Miller, a Curry School research assistant professor and one of the three study 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 decisions 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 for ensuring that tenured teachers met 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 – an intermediate step that gave them an additional year to demonstrate effective teaching consistent with the Effectiveness Framework.

While outright denial of tenure increased from 2 percent in 2008 to just 3 percent in 2012, teachers whose probationary periods were extended rose from less than 5 percent to more than 40 percent.

Despite not altering the proportion of teachers denied tenure, the tenure reform meaningfully affected the composition of teachers. Researchers found that teachers whose probationary periods 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.

Comparing the effectiveness of extended teachers who subsequently transferred or exited to all teachers entering these schools, the researchers found that the overall quality of the teaching staff improved.

“The extended teachers who left 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 study co-author.

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,” said Curry School professor Jim Wyckoff, another study coauthor.

Overall, the reform illustrates that improving principals’ access to information on teacher effectiveness during tenure review 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 New York tenure reform to better understand principals’ and teachers’ reactions to the new process, as well as the reform’s implications for teacher performance and student achievement.

Media Contact

Audrey Breen

School of Education and Human Development