The New Jersey General Assembly unanimously approved legislation to reform teacher tenure after almost two years of debate.
The bill would require annual evaluations that incorporate evidence of student achievement growth before a teacher becomes eligible for tenure. Teachers would become eligible for tenure after four years of positive ratings, rather than the current three.
“With this legislation, we will overhaul a century-old tenure law and craft a new policy that will create supports for our teachers, an ongoing evaluation system that will allow for deficiencies to be identified, corrective action plans to be implemented, and for professional development that will help strengthen our educators,” said bill sponsor state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex).
Gov. Chris Christie will address the legislation soon, though he has yet to take a position on the bill, said spokesman Michael Drewniak. Christie has put tenure reform at the top of his priorities list for this legislative session, but he had pushed for ending seniority rules, which the bill retains.
“Sen. Ruiz has been the most constructive in pursuing tenure reform, and we have worked with her and been supportive of her efforts,” said Drewniak.
Measure Retains Seniority
The measure passed in June lacks a key feature in Ruiz’s original bill. She had proposed ending the “last in, first out” rule that requires schools to fire the most recently hired teacher when laying off employees.
Lawmakers retained the current system, which uses seniority as the sole criterion when determining teacher retention, said New Jersey School Boards Association Executive Director Marie S. Bilik in a statement.
“School leaders need to consider a teacher’s job performance when recommending who would retain a position. They don’t have the authority to do that now, and they still won’t have it under the current version of S-1455,” Bilik said.
That tenet was removed after unions made it their “do or die” issue, said Jerry Cantrell, president of the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey.
“I’m disappointed that it didn’t go through in its initial format. But it’s progress,” Cantrell said.
Seen As Important First Step
Though Ruiz’ original plan did not make it through the legislature, the bill provides the important first steps for reforming tenure, an outdated 19th-century idea, Cantrell said.
“It imposes a different evaluation structure, which is a positive. I don’t know if it’s the end-all-be-all at this point in time, but it does in fact put more teeth into the evaluation process,” he said.
The bill’s success hinges on how principals and supervisors enforce it, he said.
“It has increased the individual visibility of teachers, which is obviously going to be a good thing,” Cantrell said. “As a nation, we are recognizing that the current structure and the current system are not realistic in this day and age.”
Image by Vitor Antunes.