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2-29-12 Tenure and Evaluation Issues in the News
GSCS Note: S1455 Ruiz/TEACHNJ Act re Tenure Reform and Evaluation Process is scheduled on the Senate Education Committee agenda for a hearing this Monday, March 5 at 11 a.m. in the Statehouse Annex. The bill is slated to be heard 'for discussion only'.

NJ Spotlight -Senate Hearing to Refocus Attention on Tenure Reform…With no vote planned, Sen. Ruiz still has time to work out the details of her high-profile bill

Politickernj - DOE picks Rutgers University to critique teacher evaluation pilot program

NJ Spotlight - Will NJ Go Public With Teacher Ratings?...Cerf says 'No,' but release of teacher evaluations in NYC raises questions

NJ Spotlight -Senate Hearing to Refocus Attention on Tenure Reform…With no vote planned, Sen. Ruiz still has time to work out the details of her high-profile bill

Politickernj - DOE picks Rutgers University to critique teacher evaluation pilot program

NJ Spotlight - Will NJ Go Public With Teacher Ratings?...Cerf says 'No,' but release of teacher evaluations in NYC raises questions




NJ Spotlight -Senate Hearing to Refocus Attention on Tenure Reform…With no vote planned, Sen. Ruiz still has time to work out the details of her high-profile bill

By John Mooney, February 29, 2012 in Education|Post a Comment

The debate over tenure reform in New Jersey is likely to be back on the front burner next week, as a high-profile bill goes before a key Senate committee -- with some key questions far from resolved.

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The legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), would revamp how teachers receive and lose tenure. Titled "Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of NJ" (TEACHNJ), the bill has been scheduled for hearing by the Senate education committee on Monday.

Ruiz, who chairs the committee, said the panel would not be voting on the bill on Monday, but only accepting testimony as to its strengths and weaknesses and suggestions for possible improvements.

She did not set a timeframe for when she hopes the bill does come to a vote.

"We want this to be a very open and public discussion, where people can weigh in on any of the points important to them," Ruiz said yesterday in an interview.

Many legislative leaders and observers have predicted the bill will pass in some form this year, and Gov. Chris Christie has repeatedly called tenure reform a core priority of his education agenda, even offering general praise of Ruiz's bill.

But there remain several points of contention, even after Ruiz spent the better part of the past six months drafting the bill and meeting with various stakeholders. And how those are resolved will dominate the coming discussion.

Ruiz's bill would do away with the current system that grants tenure automatically after three years. Instead, teachers would only get tenure after three years of positive evaluations. They would lose it after two consecutive negative evaluations.

Part of those evaluations would be based on student performance, part on classroom observations.

But some big and small details are still in flux, from who does the evaluations to how they could be appealed -- before an administrative law judge or arbitration panel.

The New Jersey Education Association, after sounding like an ally, is starting to criticize the bill. It has raised worries that the appeals process would only allow the procedures behind the evaluations to be contested, not the judgments themselves.

"It keeps the word tenure, but it denies any due process that makes it meaningful," said Ginger Gold Schnitzer, the union's chief lobbyist.

Gold said the union would continue to meet with Ruiz to try to work out differences, including this week, but she was quick with a long list of other differences yesterday.

She cited the bill's measure that would require so-called “mutual consent” between teacher and principal for a teacher to be placed in a school. If not placed, the teacher would have a year to find a placement or potentially lose his or her job.

Another sticking point is the limited use of seniority in determining whether a teacher is laid off or not, as well as ongoing questions about the teacher evaluation system that will be used to determine if a teacher receives tenure in the first place.

That system is now under development, being piloted in 11 districts this year and as many as another 30 next year. In a related development, the state announced yesterday that it would contract with Rutgers Graduate School of Education to evaluate the pilot in the next year.

The union has been cool to the pilot, especially its plans to include student test scores as part of the teacher evaluations. But Schnitzer said whatever the resulting system, it should be addressed in the law as well.

"Doing tenure reform without teacher evaluation in place is like putting the cart before the horse," Schnitzer said yesterday. "If the goal is truly to improve the quality of the teachers and not just punish people, how do you move this through without the evaluation piece in place?"

These are all sticky issues for Ruiz, who repeatedly says the bill is a work in progress and comments that hearings like Monday's will provide an opportunity for suggested changes.

The state senator would not get into further details as to what those changes could be, but the bill as now crafted reflects the tight-rope she is walking.

For example, on the hot button topic of seniority no longer determining the order of layoffs -- one that has vexed the NJEA from the start -- Ruiz's bill would only have it apply to new teachers.

On another front, the bill would prohibit the kind of public release of teacher evaluation data that has set off storms of protest in New York City, where individual ratings for 18,000 teachers were posted on line.

Instead, Ruiz's bill includes this language: "Information related to the evaluation of a particular employee shall be maintained by the school district, shall be confidential, and shall not be accessible to the public pursuant to P.L.1963, c.73 (C.47:1A-1 et seq.), as amended and supplemented."

Ruiz said yesterday that she has been accommodating in making the law first and foremost about improving teaching. "From one corner to another, this is about supporting the most important profession in New Jersey," she said.

 Politickernj - DOE picks Rutgers University to critique teacher evaluation pilot program

By Minhaj Hassan | February 28th, 2012 - 1:51pm

TRENTON – The state Education Department on Tuesday said it selected Rutgers University Graduate School of Education to conduct an independent evaluation of the Excellent Educators for New Jersey (EE4NJ) teacher evaluation pilot program that is currently being conducted in 10 school districts it selected in August.

The evaluation will identify successes and challenges in implementing a new educator evaluation system and will inform statewide rollout of a new evaluation framework in the 2013-14 school year.

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said he is “excited” about the opportunity to partner with the state’s largest public university and its group of nationally-recognized and experienced researchers

“Over the past five months, we have begun the effort to develop a more fair, consistent, and learning-centered teacher evaluation system that will help all teachers, regardless of experience, continuously improve their practice,” Cerf said in a statement. “The purpose of the pilot is to empower our educators to drive this new evaluation framework, and we have already made great strides over the last several months in working with pilot districts.”

William Firestone, professor of Education Policy at Rutgers Graduate School of Education and principal investigator, echoed Cerf’s sentiments.

“We are pleased to assist the New Jersey Department of Education and educators throughout the state by conducting this evaluation,” Firestone said. “The pilot of the teacher evaluation is very important for helping the state develop a feasible set of state guidelines and ensuring that the resulting policy improves the quality of teaching in the state. Our work with the pilot districts will provide an objective view to ensure that the program is well designed and constructive.”

The pilot evaluation program is designed to allow flexibility to districts to experiment with a more comprehensive system. The evaluation would be based on student learning outcomes, progress in test scores and subjects instead of just performance, providing teachers tools for improvement.

The Rutgers team will utilize surveys, focus groups, interviews, and an analysis of teacher practice and student growth data from the pilot districts to see how it’s being implemented. Specifically, it will address the extent and quality of implementation, barriers and successes, and comparison with previous evaluation systems.

The “outcomes” evaluation will provide information on the ability of the pilot program to achieve its stated goals and will look at the distributions of evaluation ratings and student growth data.

Rutgers will present interim reports throughout the program to help refine the teacher evaluation program and will also present a final report at the end of the contract.

“We committed to learning as much as possible during this pilot year to ensure that the ultimate framework we provide for all districts in 2013-14 is as strong as possible,” Cerf said. “This Rutgers team brings the experience and rigor necessary to guide this process and inform the development of our new system. We are grateful for their participation and look forward to working with them in the coming months.


NJ Spotlight - Will NJ Go Public With Teacher Ratings?...Cerf says 'No,' but release of teacher evaluations in NYC raises questions


By John Mooney, February 28, 2012 in Education|5 Comments

When New York City last week posted the performance ratings for thousands of its public school teachers online, it raised concerns about the fairness of the data and the accuracy of the ratings themselves.

It also brought up questions on this side of the Hudson River as to whether public grades for teachers would be coming to New Jersey next, as this state develops its own teacher evaluation system.

Yesterday, acting education commissioner Chris Cerf tried to quell worries and said he would be against public disclosure of individual teachers' scores.

"I don't believe in that," Cerf said in an interview last night. "It is counterproductive, and I believe it is not something we should put out. And especially putting that out in isolation, it's against everything we want to do."

Still, not everyone is certain that teacher rankings being developed for NJ public schools will stay private.

"In two and a half years, we have seen enough misinformation from this administration that, let's just say, our caution lights are on," said Steve Wollmer, communications director of the New Jersey Education Association.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting comment from Cerf, who was the deputy chancellor of schools in New York City when that school system began to devise its evaluation process three years ago.

The public grades for New York teachers are part of an overall ratings methodology based on the achievement of students through a complicated formula that measures them against expectations.

Cerf said he never intended for the performance ratings to go public. He had an agreement with the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the city's teachers union, and cited a 2008 letter he sent to then UFT president Randi Weingarten making that pledge. He said he'd even help the UFT fight it in court.

"My No. 1 objective was to get the UFT to engage in a process where we were building a system and would be working at it," Cerf said yesterday.

It proved a moot point since Cerf left New York in 2009. Ultimately, the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg agreed to put the scores online, even while warning that they may be imperfect. The UFT sought to block the move in state court, but the court ruled the data was public information.

Last Friday, the Bloomberg administration released the ratings for 18,000 elementary and middle school teachers, placing them each in percentile ratings based on the student achievement measures. Among the concerns, the teachers' scores appeared to have a wide margin of error and in some cases were based on the sample as small as 10 students, according to news reports.

"Our deal was trumped by the courts," Cerf said last night. "I'm not sure what happened in the end."

Whether Cerf is put in a similar position in New Jersey is yet to be seen, but the Christie administration is embarking on a similar system that will lead to new ratings for teachers, at the very least putting them each into categories from "ineffective" to "highly effective."

As much as half of their ratings could be based on student performance measures similar to those in New York, and under legislation being pressed by Christie and some Democrats, the ratings would ultimately be used in determining a teacher's tenure rights and job status.

But at least for the moment, the new teacher evaluation system here is only in a pilot phase in 11 districts, and will expand to another 30 next year before it is set to roll out statewide in 2013-2014.

When pressed whether any ratings for individual teachers would ever be made public by the Christie administration, Cerf was reluctant to promise but said he would be against it. And he didn't rule out the courts potentially intervening.

"That's not my inclination," he said. "Based on what I know now, I wouldn't."

"I happen to think we do much, much more for kids by taking struggling teachers and making them better than exiting the least effective ones," Cerf said. "And I want to do that in a slow methodical way."

Still, even the prospect of such a release left some advocates worried this weekend that public ratings may be coming in some form to New Jersey, whether or not Cerf says he supports them.

"It's a disaster that shouldn't happen anywhere, and certainly not in New Jersey," said Wollmer. "If you want to totally alienate an entire generation of teachers, that's the way to do it."

Stan Karp of the Education Law Center, the Newark advocacy group that spearheaded the Abbott v. Burke litigation, has long been critical of Christie's and Cerf's direction with the teacher evaluation.

And he said yesterday that despite Cerf's comments, the use of student test scores opens up the possibility of misuse.

"The publication of teachers' names linked to error-filled, unreliable ratings is a formula for educational abuse and community chaos," he wrote in an email.

"The New York court ruling that the mere existence of such information makes it subject to disclosure requests from the media and others is one more reason to slow down the current rush to mandate test-based ratings systems for teacher evaluation."



Garden State Coalition of Schools
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