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8-13-12 Education Issues in the News

NJSpotlight - Tenure Reform Law: The Debates Ahead…In the wake of Christie signing new law, questions as to how evaluations and arbitrators will work --

By John Mooney, August 13, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

Much of the attention on New Jersey’s new teacher tenure law signed by Gov. Chris Christie last week has been on its new rules regarding teacher tenure, its focus on student achievement and evaluations for judging teachers, and its streamlined legal proceedings for removing the weakest.

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Getting less press, however, have been some of the critical details that make up the bulk of the 18-page law, not to mention the 49 pages of proposed regulations put forward by the Christie administration last week concerning the teacher evaluation piece of it.

School Improvement Panels

Central to the new law -- the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey ACT (TEACH NJ) -- is an improved evaluation system for teachers, one that will be based on approved evaluation instruments and professional standards that look at both teaching practices and student learning.

But who will direct those policies and perform those evaluations has always been a point of some contention, and the law settled on an interesting balance.

In each school, a School Improvement Panel will be created that will consist of a principal or his or her designee, an assistant or vice principal, and a teacher. The teacher will be a “person with a demonstrated record of success in the classroom,” chosen in consultation with the union.

The panel will be responsible for overseeing the mentoring of new teachers and will conduct the evaluations of all teachers. One interesting part is that the teacher member will not be allowed to be part of those evaluations, unless agreed to by the union.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s dominant teachers union, wanted that provision, so not to throw their members into the difficult situation of teachers evaluating teachers. The American Federation of Teachers, the smaller union but representing Newark teachers, has asked that teachers be included.

Arbitration Process

A key component of the new law is the use of special arbitrators to make decisions when a tenure charge against a teacher or principal is contested. The timelines that limit the extent of disputes also are new. The decisions of the arbitrators is binding.

But who will those arbitrators be? Under the terms of an intensely negotiated provision, 25 will be in place, all members of the National Academy of Arbitrators and chosen by various stakeholders in the debate.

Eight arbitrators will be picked by the NJEA; three, by the AFT; nine, by the New Jersey School Boards Association; and five, by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association. Only if a vacancy goes unfilled will the state commissioner appoint an arbitrator.

The arbitrators will have set fees for their work, with a limit intended to cut down on the prospect of cases being extended to earn the arbitrator and the lawyers more money. An arbitrator can make no more than $1,250 per day and no more than $7,500 per case. The state pays the bill for each case.

The rules of dispute are critically important. The law explicitly allows the arbitrator only to decide if proper procedures were followed, and not the merits of the teacher evaluation itself.

There are some exceptions. A teacher can contest facts in the evaluation and can raise issues of favoritism, nepotism, or political payback for things such as union activity. Beyond that, the law is clear that the evaluator’s judgment to the quality of a teacher’s work is not open to challenge.

“The evaluator’s determination as to the quality of an employee’s classroom performance shall not be subject to an arbitrator’s review.”

The Financial Impact

How much will all this cost?

The law devotes exactly one line to overall cost, a subject sure to be a point of considerable debate in the years ahead: “The Department of Education shall provide the funds necessary to effectuate the provisions of this act.”

Beyond that, there is considerable speculation at this point but few real estimates as to what will surely be many millions of dollars spent to help train teachers on the new evaluation system, purchase the various evaluation instruments, and paying teachers and administrators for any extra duties.

The Christie administration dodges the issue in its new teacher evaluation regulations proposed last week to the state Board of Education. “School districts will be required to allocate funds to implement these regulations,” it said in the summary of the regulations.

But in an ongoing pilot program testing the evaluation system in 11 districts last year and another estimated 20 this coming year, the state has distributed a total of $3 million to get those districts rolling.

That is likely only a drop in the statewide bucket. The nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services extrapolated those costs to come up with an estimated $50 million for teacher evaluations and another $11 million for principal evaluations.

There will be other costs, too, including a shift of the funding for required mentoring of new teachers back to the state after years where it was zero funded and left to the teachers themselves to pay.

And few can yet estimate how many cases will go to state arbitrators under the new system and whether legal costs will rise or even fall.

A common word in the OLS report is "indeterminate.” At this point, it applies to a large part of the law's impact.



Star-Ledger editorial: Both Parties Must Back Kyrillos Tenure Reform Effort


August 10, 2012


 New Jersey’s teacher tenure bill was signed into law this week, a resounding victory in the first round of the reform fight — but it’s not over yet.

To get that crucial legislation passed, reformers had to abandon their push to end the practice known as “last in, first out,” which protects absolute seniority rights during times of layoffs. The state’s largest teachers union insisted upon it.

Now, that sacrifice will fall hardest on cities such as Newark that face hundreds of layoffs over the next few years. They’ll be forced to purge their younger teachers, including even the most talented and hardworking ones.

That’s not what’s best for kids. Principals should have the power to retain and reward their top teachers. So we’ve got to rally around the seniority fight again, and drum up the political will to fix this. State Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) was first out of the gate this week with a pledge to introduce new legislation to reform seniority, a key part of the governor’s agenda. But both parties need to get behind this effort.

The union argues that veteran teachers will be fired to save more money — a highly unlikely scenario because it would violate federal laws against age discrimination. The real effect of these rules is that districts are forced to fire good young teachers in times of layoffs.

At the very least, we must find a way to contain the damage. Superintendents in failing districts, for instance, could be allowed to select a certain number of “all-star” teachers who are shielded from layoffs, even without seniority.

Ultimately, though, we need a statewide policy change. Tenure reform will help remove bad teachers from the classroom, but what about our ability to hold on to the best ones?

According to a study of four urban school districts by the New Teacher Project, a New York-based policy group, many principals don’t make any distinction between their best and worst teachers. So, too often, the lowest-performing teachers stick around while the highest-performing ones, who feel frustrated and unappreciated, go elsewhere. Less than 30 percent of the best teachers leave for personal reasons beyond their school’s control, the study found.

Compensation was one of the reasons most frequently cited. Instead of awarding raises for seniority and advanced degrees, why not for talent? We’ve got to give principals more ability to control their own budgets, pay the best teachers what they’re worth and create a career ladder for them to climb.

But first thing’s first: We must make sure we can protect the best teachers during layoffs — regardless of seniority.”


Politickernj -  Tenure Victory Shows What's Possible

By Steve Adubato, Jr. | August 10th, 2012 - 1:44pm


The easiest thing in the media is to bash and criticize government for being dysfunctional and counterproductive. If you turn on FOX News, MSNBC, or CNN any night of the week, you can see Congress getting bashed for an inability to work with the President or the White House for one screw up or another.


One of the biggest reasons it is easy to criticize government is because it seems to be pretty rare when the legislative and the executive branch can come together, along with key special interest groups, and actually do something that makes sense—create sound public policy that will hopefully improve things. When that happens, we in the media have a responsibility to shine a light on that success and let the public know that the public’s business is being done in a reasonable and credible fashion. This is exactly what took place this past Monday when very significant tenure reform legislation was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie. This reform will change the way school systems deal with teachers who are not performing in the classroom and no longer deserve to be in front of our kids.


Sponsored by Senator Teresa Ruiz, a Democrat, the tenure reform law will take effect in the 2013 school year. But tenure reform is not a partisan initiative; therefore, members of both parties were on board. Further, what is particularly significant is that the NJEA, which represents the vast majority of public school teachers in our state, ultimately agreed to support the effort to change the tenure law. The teachers union ultimately contributed in a positive way to the outcome of this most significant tenure debate.

It’s a safe bet that Governor Christie and the NJEA will battle again in the future and there will be some name calling down the road. But this week, on this initiative, the governor and the teachers union joined together with a host of prominent legislators from both sides of the aisle, lead by Senator Ruiz, to improve our tenure laws on behalf of public school children. More specifically, teachers will no longer be eligible for tenure after three years, but will now have to work four years in the classroom before being considered. In addition, even after a teacher receives tenure, under this new law he or she can lose that teaching job if he or she receives a sub-par evaluation two years in a row. It may not sound like much, but this is a very big deal in a state like New Jersey where many have criticized our tenure laws for years, but without serious movement to change the status quo.


Further, some who are critical of the tenure law that was ultimately passed criticize it because they say that teacher seniority is still a factor when a school district needs to fire teachers. In fact, Governor Christie had advocated that school districts be able to lay off teachers regardless of how many years they have under their belt. But the NJEA held firm on this issue. Something had to give. Some believed that Governor Christie should not sign the bill as long as this seniority issue was not resolved. Fortunately, to the governor’s credit, he did compromise because half a loaf of bread is still a lot better than no loaf at all. Contrary to the Tea Party’s philosophy, compromise in government and public policy is not a dirty word.


Legislation and laws as are not meant to be perfect. They are meant to create improvements in a very imperfect system. We can all go back to criticizing, pointing fingers and playing the blame game soon enough, but for right now, I say it’s time to say bravo to everyone in the Statehouse who had a hand in achieving genuine tenure reform. There is enough credit to go around. Imagine what else could be done if all parties involved just took a step back and asked themselves what really matters in the grand scheme of things. In this case, it was public school children. And on this occasion, our kids won big.


Check out an exclusive interview with Senator Teresa Ruiz, sponsor of the tenure reform bill in NJ, with co-anchors Steve Adubato and Rafael Pi Roman on New Jersey Capitol Report. New Jersey Capitol Report, which airs on NJTV, WNET and other public television stations, examines the state’s most pressing public policy issues. Click HERE to watch the interview or log on to www.caucusnj.org to view the complete broadcast schedule.


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