The new tenure law signed by Gov. Chris Christie over the summer will help to achieve the universal goal of having great teachers in every classroom. As before, every educator is guaranteed a fair dismissal process should a district deem that individual ineffective. Due process—the right to appeal to an outside third party--has been retained. But, by taking tenure cases out of the courts, the process will move faster and cost less. Massachusetts adopted an identical process 20 years ago and it has been enormously successful.
The law also changes the amount of time it takes a teacher to earn tenure from three years to four. On the surface, it may appear that the reason for this move was to simply give administrators more time to evaluate a teacher’s abilities. It’s more than that. The law requires that first-year teachers be mentored by more experienced colleagues.
One statistic that has been lost amidst the tenure reform rhetoric is that almost half of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years of their career. Sure, some of them find they simply weren’t suited for the classroom. But many who want to stay and have an aptitude for teaching say they simply didn’t receive the training and support they needed to grow into the job. A quality program that advises and assists new teachers will change that.
Another step toward keeping the best and brightest in our classrooms is the adoption of a fair and effective evaluation system.
A small pilot of the state’s new evaluation system is entering its second year. Some aspects of the new system show great promise, and many teachers in the pilot districts have reported having richer discussions about their craft with supervisors than ever before.
But even a good evaluation system can be implemented poorly. That’s why NJEA and its members are closely involved in the pilot. It is up to all of us to ensure that the primary objective of a new evaluation system is to identify successful teachers and direct those who are struggling to the resources they need to improve.
It’s no secret that Gov. Chris Christie wants to tie teacher evaluations to student test scores on state assessments. Fortunately, NJEA won a provision in the new law stipulating that student test scores cannot be the “predominant” factor in teacher evaluation. The overwhelming conclusion of respected researchers on the use of test scores suggests that they should not be the deciding factor in a teacher’s evaluation or employment.
The Christie administration also wants to eliminate seniority. Like it is in most professions, experience should be valued in education. And now that administrators have a fair, fast, and less costly dismissal process, there is no excuse to have to choose between an effective and an ineffective teacher in a layoff situation.
To focus on what really matters, the state should provide for the training and support of successful educators rather than look for excuses to remove veteran teachers.