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9-12-12 Education Issues in the News

NJ Spotlight - NJ Schools Prepare to Implement New Teacher Evaluations…With teacher’s tenure now tied to the evaluations, state sets deadlines for districts to decide on the process and performance models

By John Mooney, September 12, 2012 in Education|2 Comments

New Jersey’s plans for having a statewide teacher evaluation system in place by 2013-2014 goes full throttle this year, with every school district in the state being required to start putting the key pieces in place.

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Much of the attention has been on the more than two dozen districts that have signed on to be pilots of the new program, 11 last year and another 10 this year. An additional 14 districts are also piloting a new principal evaluation system.

But the balance of the state’s nearly 600 districts are hardly off the hook, as the state has begun rolling out timelines and regulations that they will need to follow in preparation for having the statewide system ready by next year.

It will start with every district and school putting together the teams of administrators and teachers who will decide on the process for their districts, as well as the choice of the eventual evaluation models to be used to judge their teachers’ performances.

Thirteen models -- from nationally-known ones to local district versions -- have so far been chosen by the state as options for districts to choose from, with the state opening up another two rounds of proposals in the coming months. The pilots in the meantime are testing out a variety of models themselves.

In the end, the program and how it plays out in each district will be the linchpin to the Christie administration’s and the Legislature’s push to bring more accountability to teacher performance, including the ultimate use of student achievement as one of the factors in a teacher’s or principal’s evaluation.

Under new tenure reform legislation signed in August, a teacher’s tenure protections will hinge on how they fare in the evaluations.

State officials yesterday said they are seeing a range of reactions so far to the early rollout of the rules, but certainly a steady commitment by every district’s to be well prepared.

‘We are seeing a mix of emotions about it,” said Peter Shulman, the assistant education commissioner overseeing the effort. “But I must say the signing of [the new tenure law] has grabbed the attention of folks who might not have before.”

Added Timothy Matheny, the state’s new director of educator evaluation and former principal of South Brunswick high school: “Any time there is a sea change, there will be some anxiety involved, but those who really care about improvements in the system, they see the value in this.”

Shulman stressed that many districts have been well along with this process, with strong evaluations systems in place and some starting to form their own panels. But there are still a number of steps that may be new, including having teachers serve on school panels that will oversee the evaluation process

“This is not a new concept, it’s been around for decades,” he said. “But depending on where you are, the starting line is different.”

As laid out in new regulations being proposed before the State Board of Education and distributed to districts this week, the key deadlines for each district are:

·         Form a District Evaluation Advisory Committee by Oct. 31.

·         Adopt educator evaluation models for teachers and principals by Dec. 31

·         Begin to test and refine evaluation models by Jan. 31, 2013.

·         Form a School Improvement Panel to oversee evaluation activities by Feb. 1, 2013.

·         Train all teachers by July 1, 2013.

·         Train evaluators by Aug. 31, 2013.

With the school year just under way, districts are starting to move on the edicts, including getting acclimated with the various models that will be required.

The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers union, and the state’s Principals and Supervisors Association are hosting a forum next week where some of the major evaluation models will present their plans. More than 200 teachers and administrators have signed up to listen, organizers said.

“We’ve been talking about this for more than a year, but it's now becoming real to people,” said Debra Bradley, director of government relations for the principals group.

State officials said they remained on track to have the system ready for every district by the start of the 2013-2014 school year, as required under the new legislation. But Shulman especially has repeatedly said that he wants to hear districts’ feedbacks and concerns in the lead up to the launch.

“We are well positioned,” Shulman said yesterday. “But we know we have our work cut out for us.”

The Record - Chicago teachers strike: Could it happen in New Jersey?

Wednesday September 12, 2012, 12:15 AM



Teachers are walking picket lines in Chicago over job security, compensation and evaluations, the very issues that have been in the forefront of efforts to improve New Jersey schools.

At the heart of the walkout this week by 26,000 Chicago teachers are issues tied to broader efforts to bolster education across the country and make sure children get quality teachers. Indeed, New Jersey’s new tenure law, signed by Governor Christie in August, reflected long, complex negotiations with the state’s largest teachers union over how a teacher’s job performance should be judged and how those ratings should affect job protections.

Why are the Chicago teachers striking?

The main issue involves the new teacher evaluation system. The Chicago Teachers Union is protesting the use of ratings based partly on student growth on various tests. A 2010 Illinois law, about to be implemented, said at least 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must stem from such test data, and eventually that share would increase to 40 percent.

Unions and other educators nationwide say computer models that link teachers to student scores are highly unreliable — and unfair to teachers with particularly challenging students. Teachers in Chicago worry they will be unjustly fired based on these ratings.

What does that have to do with New Jersey?

The Christie administration is developing new evaluations that, for the first time, would be based half on student learning and half on observations of the teacher. Its goal is to have more objective, rigorous ratings for teachers than in the current system, where nearly all get good reviews. A handful of districts are trying the new evaluation system this year, and all districts are supposed to use it in the 2013-14 school year.

While the new tenure law says test scores should not be the “predominant” factor in a teacher’s evaluation and there must be “multiple measures” of student growth, critics argue test scores will play too big a role, increasing pressure to cheat.

Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said that in subjects where there are state tests — meaning math and language arts in Grades 3-8 — he wants student growth data to account for 35 percent to 45 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation. That may evolve, however, and “there is nothing cast in stone about those numbers,” he said this week.

The New Jersey Education Association said that percentage is too high, in part because many factors outside the classroom, such as poverty, influence student success. “Test scores are no more predictable than the weather when it comes to reflecting teacher quality,” says NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer.

For educators who don’t teach subjects that are covered by state standardized tests, districts are struggling to figure out how they will measure student progress. Portfolios of student work, commercially available tests or home-grown assessments may be considered. The administration is pushing regulations with broad guidelines that allow for some district choices.

The regulations for new evaluations do call for teacher input.

“We are honestly trying to step into this with a great deal of humility about the complexity of the task and with a great deal of engagement with teachers,” Cerf said.

Under the new tenure law, a teacher gets an initial “mentorship” year, then needs two good annual ratings within three years to get tenure. A teacher can face tenure charges after two poor ratings in a row.

When will teacher ratings, based on student growth, be available?

The New Jersey Department of Education says districts now have preliminary data showing how each student grew since 2010, compared with peers with similar test histories. A spokeswoman said that in “coming months,” districts will get data linking student scores to teachers. These computer models aim to isolate each teacher’s contribution to student learning, and help diagnose ways to improve.

By law, those teacher ratings are confidential.

What do the Chicago teachers want when it comes to seniority?

City school officials have closed schools and are rumored to plan many more closings. The Chicago Teachers Union wants a process that would fill vacancies by rehiring teachers who lose their jobs due to closings. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said principals should have the authority to hire personnel based on talent and effectiveness.

How does that relate to New Jersey?

The Christie administration has been calling forcefully for an end to seniority protections during staff reductions. The NJEA has pushed hard to keep them, saying that districts would otherwise try to save money by firing more expensive veterans. Some Republican legislators are pushing a bill that would end the policy of last-in-first-out to give principals more autonomy in staffing decisions.

What’s the conflict over compensation in Chicago?

The Chicago Tribune reported that the Chicago school district improved its initial offer and has offered teachers a series of base salary increases over four years, beginning with 3 percent in the first year and 2 percent in each of the next three years. It said the average teacher in the system has 13.7 years of experience and is paid about $71,200.

The New Jersey Education Association says public school teachers here make an average of $68,121, though some districts’ averages are higher.

Who represents the Chicago teachers?

They are represented by an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, which has a presence in New Jersey, but is much smaller here than the National Education Association.

The sheer size of the Chicago district, the third largest in the country, with 350,000 children, makes this walkout particularly dramatic. It has almost 10 times as many students as New Jersey’s largest district, Newark.

Can teachers strike in New Jersey?

It’s illegal here, but there have been teacher strikes.

In a particularly bitter dispute in Middletown in 2001, 228 striking teachers were jailed after they refused a judge’s order to head back to class.

In 1987, 132 teachers and school staffers in Lyndhurst staged a six-day strike and were arrested and sentenced to community service.

Paterson teachers have been working without a new contract for two years, and Paterson Education Association President Pete Tirri said some staffers have asked him why they’re not striking. He said he was “not optimistic” about finding a resolution with the school board, and had “no idea” what would happen next.

Email: brody@northjersey.com


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