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Are teachers making the grade?

Korn countered that New York's three-year probation is one of the longest among states. He said that many of the prospective candidates for tenure do not measure up and are not recommended.

Interim Superintendent for Ballston Spa Central School District, Ray Colucciello agreed that districts should weed out unqualified staff long before the recommendation for tenure even begins.

"The only people who should go into year three should be those teachers you are sure would be appropriate," said Colucciello. "A lot of districts separate staff after year one or two. Typically, you can tell."

Ernst said that problems can crop up even after weeding out unqualified teachers before tenure recommendations.

"In year three, the person is a good, motivated teacher. It does not mean at year eight or year 28 they are going to be a good, motivated teacher, yet your flexibility is very, very limited," said Ernst, who added that NYSSBA is in favor of abolishing tenure in favor of renewable contracts.

"Renewable tenure is no tenure at all," said Korn, who equates renewable contracts to a permanent probation period. "A system without tenure would be a breeding ground for mediocrity."

Proponents say tenured teachers are more apt to seek new ways to help kids learn by trying various instructional methods. Another benefit, Colucciello said, is that having job security removes teachers from the worry about what unhappy individuals could do to their livelihood.

"There are so many variables in learning," said Colucciello.

He said charges of incompetence are often difficult to trace back to the teacher. The roles of the parent and the student, as well as the available resources, must be taken into account. In such cases, it becomes "hard to extract" a single reason " such as teacher's instructional methods being faulty " for failure.

"Teaching is not an exact science. It is an art," said Colucciello. He said that standards and practices are different between districts, and teachers who are viewed as average in one area may be considered above average in another.

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