Teacher Competency in New York
City Schools: Administrator and
Laurence J. Newman
Schools have recently been under attack for the quality of education that students receive. Looking for causes, teacher competency has been singled out as one explanation of the decline in academic achievement by our nation's students. Among the factors that have contributed to this scrutiny of teacher performance are the advent of student minimum competency tests, numerous reports of students who have been granted high school diplomas and cannot read, inadequate teacher applicants who fail to pass basic skills tests, and the tottering general confidence in our public schools. 1
Of all the reasons given for the dismissal of a tenured teacher, incompetence is most often cited by school administrators and supervisors.2 Incompetence is a term that is vague and usually applied to those teachers who have displayed less than desirable professional and personal characteristics in their overall classroom performance. Unfortunately, there are no objective standards by which teacher competence can be assessed.3 School officials in individual schools rarely agree upon a definition of incompetence that can be universally applied to all teachers in all cases. Incompetence is a concept that does not contain a precise technical meaning. 4 For instance, in section 3012 of the New York State Education Law, incompetence is enumerated as one of the three major reasons for teacher dismissal; however, within the law, there are no guidelines to determine what type of teacher behavior specifically constitutes incompetence. Even in the smallest school districts throughout the United States, the lack of an exact definition of incompetence severely restricts the number of tenured teachers who can be successfully removed from their teaching position.
In legal cases that have involved incompetence, the courts have been establishing definitions of incompetence based on the specific situations that have been present in each individual case.5 Michael C. Nolte claims that incompetency