Here’s two hopeful signs of education reform in NJ: according to NJ Spotlight, Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill is moving forward; she hopes to have it approved in the Legislature during the lame duck session after the November elections. Also, NJEA’s leadership, according to the Asbury Park Press, has instructed its local units to cooperate with the state’s pilot of value-added models, which tie student growth to teacher evaluations.
Ruiz’s bill (see here) offers the following changes to our current tenure law, which mandates tenure protection to teachers after they’ve employed by a public school district after three years and a day:
- Each school will “convene a school improvement panel” which will include a teacher, principal, and asst. principal. (According to the Spotlight piece, the teacher may come from a pool within the district, not necessarily the school itself.) This panel will conduct hiring of new teachers, mentoring, and annual evaluations. Panel members don’t evaluate themselves.
- After two consecutive years of “ineffective” ratings, a teacher loses tenure protection and principals “must” revoke tenure. (Gov. Christie’s plan made it one year.) It works the same way for principals, although decisions regarding their effectiveness will be made by superintendents. There’s a shorter timeline to appeal tenure charges.
- The bill extends the earliest possible securing of tenure to four years; i.e., three consecutive years of adequate “effectiveness” is required on teaching evaluations and the first year doesn’t count.
- The bill takes approval of employment out of the hands of school boards. Currently a superintendent makes “recommendations” to a board in the form of “action items” on an agenda at a public meeting. The board then rubber stamps the items. According to Ruiz’s proposed bill language, principals would have sole authority to hire and remove teachers. Likewise, superintendents have sole authority to hire and remove principals. (The board, of course, hires its superintendent.)
In other teacher evaluation news, NJEA Spokesman Steve Baker commented positively on the DOE’s 10-district pilot of tying student test scores to teacher evaluations. “We want it to be successful,” he said. And Deputy Ed Commissioner Andy Smarick said during a presentation to the Senate Education Committee, “Our purpose was to do this with teachers, not to them. We wanted this to be a great partnership.”
The ten districts participating in the pilot are Alexandria, Bergenfield, Elizabeth, Monroe, Ocean City, Cape May, Pemberton, Red Bank, Secaucus, West Deptford, and Woodstown-Pilesgrove. Newark is also involved, although its VAM pilot is funded through a different grant.
The Ruiz bill moves teacher evaluations in exactly the WRONG direction—i.e., away from supers and boards and into the hands of those most likely to subscribe to the “go-along-to-get-along” culture prevalent in many districts.
Is the senator forgetting that principals are currently tasked with teacher observations? How is it that all these subpar teachers remain on the rolls???
[On teacher evaluation through VAM,] Andy Smarick said during a presentation to the Senate Education Committee, “Our purpose was to do this with teachers, not to them. We wanted this to be a great partnership.”
At best, wishful thinking. If teachers collectively object, the plan is to do it to them. Objections based on research that shows VAM is deeply flawed will be ignored in the fervor to achieve simplistic accountability, a politically popular notion in this sinking economy where resentment towards public employees with secure employment is running high.
There is no accountability for the forces that have promoted the lie that New Jersey public education is generally failing, or for promoting the lie that the problems we do have can be solved by attacking teachers.