Talking points on tenure

How many ineffective teachers are there?

  • Governor Christie’s Department of Education will confirm that 40 percent of all new teachers do not gain tenure after three years. 
  • They leave for a number of reasons, but those who are deemed ineffective are weeded out before they get tenure.
  • Let me ask you: What other profession – doctors, lawyers, accountants – weeds out 40 percent of its newly-minted practitioners in the first three years?
  • So given that level of attrition before tenure kicks in, why would anyone assume that there are still a large number of incompetent teachers in new Jersey’s public schools? 
  • After all, New Jersey’s public schools are among the best in the nation, and we are number one in a number of key indicators.   you can’t have those kinds of rankings without an enormous number of excellent teachers.
  • But of course there are some who are struggling, and if they cannot improve, they should face the dismissal process.
  • NJEA agrees with that, and so do our members – no one wants ineffective teachers in our classrooms.

How many teachers are dismissed in New Jersey?

  • First of all, let’s be CLEAR on one point: NO ONE – not parents, not NJEA, and not other teachers – wants an ineffective teacher in our classrooms.
  • But we need to agree on some definitions: Tenure is not “a job for life.”  It is simply a process, laid out in law, which ensures teachers facing dismissal are treated fairly.
  • The law specifically says teachers may be fired for a number of reasons, including “inefficiency” – the law’s version of “ineffectiveness” or “incompetence.”
  • Every year, a significant number of teachers are dismissed.  The vast majority of dismissal cases are settled quietly, out of the spotlight, as those teachers simply leave when presented with the district’s case against them.  Only those who feel they have been treated unfairly or illegally appeal to the courts.
  • Governor Christie misleads when he says only 17 tenured teachers were fired in the last 10 years or so.  He is only referring to teachers who were fired under a particular part of the tenure law, and who appealed their dismissals to administrative law judges.  There were dozens of teachers who appealed dismissals, yet were still dismissed in the past several years.  The vast majority of appealed dismissals are UPHELD.  Many others left without appealing the district’s tenure charges.

Problems with the TEACHNJ Act (S-1455)

  • It takes away due process, since teachers can lose tenure after two “ineffective” or “partially effective” evaluations, with no opportunity to challenge the decision.
  • Districts could keep staff in a permanent non-tenured status simply by giving at least one “ineffective” or “partially effective” rating every three years.  That rating would not be subject to challenge.
  • It creates a two-tiered tenure system, since it covers teachers and principals, while leaving other certificated staff (e.g. nurses, counselors, supervisors) under the old system.
  • Opens the door to political interference since any teacher losing tenure would lose the right to appeal an unfair dismissal to an outside party.

Facts about NJEA’s tenure proposal:

  • The main complaint about the current tenure law – and there is widespread agreement on this – is that it takes too long and costs too much to dismiss an ineffective teacher.
  • NJEA agrees.  That’s why our tenure proposal would follow the lead of Massachusetts -- whose students lead the nation in achievement – in taking the courts out of the process and sending all dismissal cases before certified employment arbitrators. 
  • We could cut the time down to just a few months.  We would also save enormous legal costs, since an arbitration hearing does not allow for the time-consuming and costly delays that are common under the current law.
  • But poll after poll also shows that people want teachers to have due process when facing dismissal, because fairness is mandatory in these cases. 
  • NJEA’s tenure proposal would make the process faster, less costly, but ensure that it would be fair.
  • NJEA’s proposal also adds a fourth year to the tenure process (it currently takes three years for a teacher to gain tenure).  We’re calling this a “residency” year.  Just as novice doctors work under the guidance of an experienced physician, a new teacher would get a full year of support from a qualified senior teacher who would provide guidance, savvy, and support.
  • Then, following the residency year, teachers would be assigned a mentor to continue their development into skilled practitioners.
  • With 40 percent of new teachers never getting tenured, we want to be sure we don’t lose good teachers who feel unsupported and tossed into the sea without a life preserver.