WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The Assembly is expected to take up deliberations Monday on the most dramatic reforms of New Jersey’s teacher tenure law since the state became the first in the nation to put K-12 tenure on the books in 1909.
The bill passed the Senate, 39-0, last week in a rare display of bi-partisan unanimity.
Governor Chris Christie is expected to sign off on the reforms – which include an end to life-time tenure – as soon as this week if they pass the Assembly.
Under the reforms — championed in the upper house by Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex County) — teachers would have to demonstrate their effectiveness through annual reviews that will factor in the academic progress made by their students. Back-to-back ratings of “ineffective” would be enough for a district superintendent to take action. Teachers could appeal their rating to an arbitrator.
The proposed new system would also apply to principals and vice principals.
Tenure would also take longer to achieve. New hires would have to wait four years before qualifying and earn “effective “ or “highly effective “ rankings in the process. Tenure is currently awarded to teachers in the state after three years.
Political scientist Ingrid Reed said the proposed reforms are a political win for both Christie and the state's teachers’ union, which helped draft the reforms and in the process preserved seniority protection for teachers when it comes to layoffs that are caused by budget cuts.
"There really was a compromise and the NJEA worked very constructively with people. Nobody called each other names for what the last six months," Reed said.
John Bulina, a longtime local school board member and president of the New Jersey School Board Association, said he backs the idea of teacher accountability, but he believes work still needs to be done on developing the criteria for the evaluations.
“It’s a major issue even with the proposed standards coming forward about teacher evaluations,” he said, “There are several models out there, and there is no uniformity about how people feel about this.”
During his last State of the State address, Governor Chris Chrsitie said it was not enough for New Jersey to spend money on its chronically failing urban public schools.
A turnaround, he argued could only come with increased teacher accountability and meaningful tenure reform.
“Today, in Newark, we spend $23,000 per student for instruction and services. But only 23 percent of ninth graders who enter high school this year will receive high school diplomas in four years,” he said.