In the end, the new tenure law was a triumph of collaboration over confrontation.
“The evolution of this law is a blueprint for effective public policy,” said NJEA President Barbara Keshishian. “Every key stakeholder – principals and supervisors, school boards, legislators, the state Department of Education, and NJEA – worked hard to bring it over the finish line.”
That finish line was located at Middlesex Borough Middle School, where Keshishian led a contingent of organization representatives to the signing by Gov. Christie of historic tenure reform legislation last month.
For answers to questions about how the law will affect you, refer to the Qs & As.
A ‘win-win’ for students, teachers, and the public
NJEA made significant contributions to the final version of the law, which dramatically reduces the time and cost of teacher dismissal proceedings, while maintaining a strong fairness standard to guarantee teachers’ due process rights.
“This law guarantees that any teacher who feels his or her dismissal is unfair or unjust has the right to appeal that dismissal to a certified arbitrator,” noted Keshishian.”
This is not the first time NJEA has promoted legislation to make teacher dismissal proceedings more efficient. In 1998, NJEA supported a major change in the tenure law, sponsored by then-state Sen. Joseph Palaia, a Republican from Monmouth County, which halved the time to dismiss a teacher deemed to be ineffective.
In December 2010, NJEA unveiled a tenure reform proposal that formed the basis of the new law, taking dismissal cases out of the courts and placing them before nationally certified arbitrators.
“We modeled our proposal after the law in Massachusetts, which moved teacher dismissal appeals from the courts to arbitrators 20 years ago. By all accounts, that decision proved to be enormously successful,” she added. Massachusetts ranks first in the nation in student achievement and New Jersey ranks second.
For answers to questions about how the law will affect you, refer to the Q and A below.
To understand how the final law differs from the original bill and how it reflects NJEA’s positions, see “The path to smart tenure reform."
Next up: evaluations
The next challenge, Keshishian believes, is to ensure that the state’s new evaluation system – currently being piloted in a number of districts – is both fair and effective.
NJEA has closely monitored the pilot and will continue to work with Department of Education officials, legislators, the State Board of Education and other stakeholders to create an evaluation system that identifies the very best teaching, helps teachers who are struggling, and allows for the fair dismissal of those who cannot improve their performance.
“The collaboration we saw with the tenure law needs to continue as we move ahead to address other challenges facing our students and our public schools,” said Keshishian.
For the latest on the state’s proposed teacher evaluation system, and the teacher evaluation pilot program, read “What YOU need to know about teacher evaluation in New Jersey.”
Seniority is not the problem
Unfortunately, some elected officials are still looking to eliminate seniority, which would allow senior teachers to be laid off before less experienced colleagues. But NJEA’s position on seniority has not and will not change.
“In most professions, experience is valued and respected,” Keshishian noted. “Experienced teachers are leaders in their schools, and play a key role in mentoring younger teachers.
“Administrators now have a fair, fast, and less costly dismissal process,” she added. “There is neither any excuse nor any reason to have to choose between an effective and an ineffective teacher in a layoff situation.”
To stay informed on this and other issues, visit njea.org frequently and text “UNITY” to 738674 to receive updates from NJEA.