The evolution of tenure reform in New Jersey

The long path to a smart tenure proposal

Published on Wednesday, June 20, 2012

NJEA recently testified in support of two tenure reform proposals being considered by the Legislature.  Our ability to do so was the result of extensive discussions with legislators in both the Assembly and the Senate to ensure that these bills met NJEA’s high standards for smart tenure reform.  After more than 18 months of work, those efforts have paid off in the form of tenure reform bills that NJEA and many other educational groups support.

It was not always certain that tenure reform efforts would achieve broad consensus.  An earlier version of the Senate legislation, S-1455, contained a number of provisions that were unacceptable to NJEA and other education groups.  Among our concerns with the original legislation were:

  • New teachers could have been kept in a permanently nontenured state simply by giving them a single rating of partially effective once every three years. 
  • It would have eliminated seniority rights in layoffs.
  • It would have given principals de facto authority to fire tenured teachers simply by blocking their ability to transfer from one school to another.
  • Evaluations would have been conducted by teachers, rather than by certified administrators.
  • Worst of all, it would have eliminated due process rights by taking away the ability of teachers to contest the loss of their tenure or their job as a result of poor or unfair evaluations. 
  • And the whole process would have remained in the court system, with its long and costly hearings.

Put simply, that proposal would have eliminated tenure in all but name and left New Jersey’s teachers vulnerable to political manipulation and other mistreatment, with no meaningful recourse.  When a version of the bill with those elements still included was discussed by a Senate committee earlier this year, NJEA testified strongly in opposition.

As a result of extensive discussions and negotiations over the last several months, the bill has been amended to deal with all of those concerns.  Under the version NJEA supported this week:

  • Teachers are guaranteed a year of mentoring to begin their career.
  • They will earn tenure in four years, providing they have at least two ratings of effective or highly effective in the three years following the initial mentorship year.
  • Seniority rights are preserved, preventing districts from targeting experienced teachers for layoffs as a cost-saving measure. 
  • Evaluations will be conducted by certified administrators.
  • Due process rights are protected, so that no tenured teacher can be fired without the opportunity for a hearing before a highly qualified and neutral third-party arbitrator. 
  • And the cases are moved out of the courts, ending the costly and time consuming process that generated so much bad publicity and ill will toward tenure.

NJEA remains in discussion with the sponsors of both bills, as well as with other legislative leaders.  We are working to ensure our members’ rights to defend themselves against spurious tenure charges.

For more details, please see this Q and A document that summarizes the key elements of the Senate bill, including the changes that allowed NJEA to support it.

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