February Issue
January 23, 2015

Tenure draws strong support statewide

Author: Matt Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Caption: NYSUT President Karen E. Magee speaks with reporters after a hearing in state Supreme Court on Staten Island on a lawsuit challenging the state's tenure law. NYSUT General Counsel Richard E. Casagrande, left, and Charles S. Moerdler, right, the attorney representing the United Federation of Teachers, both argued that the lawsuit was baseless and should be dismissed. Photo by Bruce Cotler.
Poll shows public stands up for teachers' due process, even as critics challenge the law in court.

Far more likely voters in New York state support teacher tenure than oppose the law, and more than 90 percent say teachers should have the right to know - and the opportunity to respond to - any charges filed against them, according to a recent Zogby poll conducted for NYSUT.

nysut united sep-nov 2014

ATTENTION: Local and Retiree Council Presidents

A special NYSUT United reprint on tenure is available to locals and retiree chapters. To order copies for your members, local and retiree chapter presidents should send an email request listing the number of copies desired and the address to which they should be sent. Send your request to orders@nysutmail.org. Due to the high volume, only requests from local and retiree council presidents will be fulfilled.

More resources on due process rights are available at www.nysut.org/tenure.

Contact your Legislators!

Call, email, tweet, text, visit. Let your state legislators know: Tenure ensures that teachers can speak freely for what their students need without fear of reprisal. Tenure helps safeguard our children's right to an essential education.

Don't delay!

To find your legislator, visit mac.nysut.org.

The encouraging news comes at a time when New York state's tenure law is being challenged in court by critics led by former TV host Campbell Brown, who has well-documented ties to pro-charter groups and hedge fund managers. The suit claims erroneously that the longstanding statute makes it impossible to dismiss ineffective teachers and stands in the way of children receiving a "sound, basic education."

Arguments began Jan. 14 in state Supreme Court on Staten Island. Attorneys for NYSUT and its largest affiliate, the United Federation of Teachers, argued passionately that tenure protects the ability of teachers to advocate for what their students need. NYSUT President Karen E. Magee and teachers Seth Cohen, president of the Troy Teachers Association, and Daniel Delehanty, a Rochester TA member, were in attendance. Magee, Cohen and Delehanty are among the educators who submitted affidavits in the suit as intervenors.

"These laws being challenged are not a gift to teachers," NYSUT General Counsel Richard E. Casagrande told the judge. "They help students by empowering teachers to teach well."

Casagrande and the union's team of lawyers argued before Justice Philip Minardo that the case, filed by Brown's Partnership for Educational Justice, was defective in many areas and should be dismissed. For instance, Casagrande and others argued that Brown's group has no legal standing; has not shown actual injury and that it was a prerogative of the Legislature - not the judicial branch - to make policy judgments and pass appropriate laws.

Casagrande noted that defendants included eight classroom teachers. "Teachers' interests must be heard in this debate," he said. Their right to due process, he said, must be protected so they could do what they are trained to do: teach.

"As we've long held, attacking teachers to help students is a perverse notion," NYSUT President Magee said. "New Yorkers know that tenure is an important safeguard in ensuring our young people receive a quality education by enabling teachers to speak out in the best interest of their students. Unfortunately, the attack on due process distracts from the real challenges confronting public education: chronic underfunding and poverty."

The Zogby poll of 681 likely voters was conducted in November and includes a margin of error of +/- 3.8 points.

Fifty-two percent of likely voters say they support teacher tenure compared to 35.6 who oppose it, the poll found. The results are significant, showing that public support for tenure remains strong and growing.

In 1997, when Zogby conducted an identical poll, tenure was supported by 43.3 percent of likely voters while opposed by 46.3.

Here's a look at other findings in the poll:

  • 94.2 percent say teachers should have the right to know the charges against them.
  • 93.2 percent agree teachers should have the opportunity to respond to charges against them.
  • 67.5 percent agree the decision to dismiss a teacher should be made by a neutral third party; 19.9 percent disagree.
  • 45.7 percent agree teachers should be required, as they are now, to serve a three-year probationary period; 46.7 percent disagree.
  • 67.4 percent rate New York's teachers excellent or good, compared to 28.1 percent fair or poor. Asked about the quality of teachers in their own local school, 65.2 percent said excellent or good, compared to 23.1 percent fair or poor.
  • 56.7 percent of likely voters say the influence of their local teachers' union on the education of children in their school district is very or somewhat positive, compared to the 22.2 percent who said it is somewhat or very negative.

The poll also highlights that the general public overwhelmingly supports the concept of due process.

Nearly 81 percent of likely voters supported the following: "If tenure was 'abolished' and 'replaced' with a system that gives teachers the right to an impartial hearing to answer charges before any dismissal takes place."

This, of course, is exactly what the tenure statute currently provides.