Streams

NJ Education Chief Details Tenure Reforms

Thursday, February 17, 2011

During Governor Chris Christie's State of the State last month it was his rhetorical flourish calling for the abolition of teacher tenure that made news. Without the details, it sounded like just an escalation in Christie's running battle with the New Jersey Education Association.

But Wednesday, specifics were offered about just what a post-tenure landscape might look like in New Jersey. And while they represent a radical departure from the status quo, elements of the plan echo the spirit of reforms supported by President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan that have gotten traction in other states.

Both state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and Christie insist their plan is not meant to break the union or harass the vast majority of Jersey teachers that have helped the state consistently achieve high marks in national rankings.
 
At issue, they say, is the fate of the state's more than 100,000 students, overwhelmingly kids of color trapped in 200 failing urban schools. Those stats, Christie and Cerf contend, despite billions of dollars in additional state aid since the landmark State Supreme Court case Abbott vs. Burke, which found the state had underfunded urban schools for years.

Cerf told a Princeton University audience that with Governor Christie's reform proposal tenure would "no longer be granted simply as a result of the passage of time" but on a new criteria that would be based on how well a teacher performed in the classroom.

"At least half of a teacher's evaluation would be made up of measures of student performance, such as growth on state assessments," Cerf said. The balance would come from classroom observation and a review of student work.

Under the Christie-Cerf approach, teachers would all be evaluated annually and graded in a four category ranging from highly effective to ineffective. Cerf said that would end the much less nuanced current pass/ fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading system that critics say promotes mediocrity.

Under the proposal teachers could loose tenure protection if they were evaluated as ineffective or only partially effective two years running. Those back-to-back negative assessments would not mean termination only that the teacher would lose the tenure track protection.

To get tenure, the Christie-Cerf model would require a teacher to win the effective or highly effective evaluation three years running. Cerf said that would kick in "whether at the end of her fourth year of teaching or her 14th."      

Tenure traces its roots back to the turn of the century and the Progressive movement's drive to keep machine politics out of the hiring and firing of teachers.

Cerf said in its 21st Century iteration over the last decade, just 17 teachers out of a workforce of 80,000 statewide were fired for cause. But he cites surveys in which a wide majority of teachers and administrators conceded that in their school there were tenured teachers merely going through the motions.   
 
What makes all of this particularly daunting is that this push for reform comes while the state remains in chronic fiscal crisis. Last year, Christie cut hundreds of millions of dollars from local education aid to close a $10 billion dollar budget gap. That in turn triggered teacher layoffs. That blow was softened by supplemental federal education aid. But odds are very long this new Congress will sign off on another round.  And so the squeeze play.

Cerf wants administrators to be able to use whatever pink slips do appear as a way to jettison under performing teachers and not the stars of tomorrow.

"If you have an extremely effective second- or third-year really doing wonderful things for kids and [a] not effective 10th-year teacher,  the third-year teacher goes and the 10th year teacher stays," Cerf said. "Nobody could make an argument that is in the best interest of children."

Steve Wollmer with the New Jersey Education Association said the Christie plan is driven merely by economics.

"He basically wants to run the schools on the cheap and one way to cover his cuts is to get rid of senior teachers at the top [of] the salary schedule and replace them with rookies at the bottom," Wollmer said.

Ultimately, Wollmer said teachers will see results on the standardized test as all that matters when it comes to keeping their job. Wollmer said the teacher association has its own reform proposal, which would make it easier to remove a teacher that merits dismissal.

New Jersey's Democratic legislative leaders who control both the assembly and senate say they will also be proposing their version of tenure reform.

Tags:

More in:

The Morning Brief

Enter your email address and we’ll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.

Comments [6]

MamaD from TN

The problem with putting so much emphasis on test scores is that there are some teachers "young and old" who will cheat in order to get good scores. Until each state can send in teams of people to administer the test, carry it out with them, bring it back, etc. all test results will not be accurate. I believe improvements will come when someone figures out a way to give some of our students a home life, where parents instill the value of an education in their children, and become involved in their child's education. Teachers cannot do it all. Today, they have to be many things to some of their students besides a teacher. The political arena is alive and well in many school systems, esp. smaller ones, so tenure is really needed in these. Teachers have been moved out in order to make room for one of the "good ole boy's child. A poor performing teacher can be dismissed. It takes a paper trail, accurate evaluations, and an improvement plan. But, most importantly, it takes a principal with enough "guts" to do the above. When you lay the groundwork and have your paper trail established, then many unions might put up a small fight for that teacher, but they won't go all out because they know that the documentation is there..

Feb. 20 2011 05:34 AM
MamaD from TN

The problem with putting so much emphasis on test scores is that there are some teachers "young and old" who will cheat in order to get good scores. Until each state can send in teams of people to administer the test, carry it out with them, bring it back, etc. all test results will not be accurate. I believe improvements will come when someone figures out a way to give some of our students a home life, where parents instill the value of an education in their children, and become involved in their child's education. Teachers cannot do it all. Today, they have to be many things to some of their students besides a teacher. The political arena is alive and well in many school systems, esp. smaller ones, so tenure is really needed in these. Teachers have been moved out in order to make room for one of the "good ole boy's child. A poor performing teacher can be dismissed. It takes a paper trail, accurate evaluations, and an improvement plan. But, most importantly, it takes a principal with enough "guts" to do the above. When you lay the groundwork and have your paper trail established, then many unions might put up a small fight for that teacher, but they won't go all out because they know that the documentation is there..

Feb. 20 2011 05:32 AM
Thomas

Unfortunately like everything else that comes out of Trenton, it stinks. Christie is prosecuting the state and that is sad. From the beginning when big bucks were being dumped in to these inpovished districts eveyone knew nothing good was to come from them. Test scores are in the gutter, drop out rate is still extremely high, and many educators have given up. But why punish all school districts. Highly effective suburban districts have been doing wonderful things with kids. NJ has the 2nd highest number of kids going on to college. state aid has been stolen by the state, legislatures are oing after weak groups like superintendents thinking that they are no threat to them politicially and so many politicians and lobbyist have destroyed the pension and health benefit systems. The leislatures and past governors have destroyed, exploited and raided the pension systems but they point all including Christie point the finger to the very people who contribute to the system, by payroll deduction, as being the deamom. Tun your finger around and back to yourself..........most of us in the system's spouses do not make 1/2 million a year. We have obligations too. Keep this in mind, the more people that are let go, the less is deposited into the pension fund. That's simple mathematics

Feb. 18 2011 10:29 AM
Cindy Carter from Texas

If parents do not value education in the home, and they do not support or model behaviors that show the child that school is important, kids will continue to struggle. When parents in poor communities are struggling to pay for heat, put food on the table, buy clothes, etc., school is put on the back burner. At the high school level, a teacher is with his/her students for only five hours a week. Yes, there is a lot I can do to instill motivation in the hearts an minds of my high school kids, but the parents have more power. No one ever discusses the impact of the parents and the home. We are only one small piece of the entire educational process.

Feb. 18 2011 08:54 AM
NonTenureTeacher from NJ

As a non tenure teacher who was laid off last year I completely disagree with this proposal, but not against getting rid of tenure. There is always that miserable old teacher in every school that everyone wishes would retire. However, to tie test scores to teacher job security is not a fair way to judge a teacher's skills. It can be a piece of a larger puzzle but not merely coupled with an observation. Why isn't parental input in this equation? Also who will be doing this observation? Someone from the government? There goes the GOP again. Yelling at big gov't for one thing but making it bigger on the other end.

Feb. 17 2011 05:55 PM
NJgirl

About time! Tenure was not meant for k-12 teachers bidding their time and staying under the radar. It was designed to protect college professors doing research, so the advancement of science would not be influenced by high dollar donors. I wish high dollar donors were an issue in our public schools - It would save on all the taxes I pay! NJ started tenure for K-12, hopefully it will be the state that ends it!

Feb. 17 2011 01:35 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Sponsored

Latest Newscast

 

 

Support

WNYC is supported by the Charles H. Revson Foundation: Because a great city needs an informed and engaged public

Feeds

Supported by