Testimony by NJEA President Barbara Keshishian

Published on Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good afternoon and thank you for the opportunity to testify.

I’d like to begin with a quote from a Star Ledger op-ed piece I wrote last year.

I said: “No one wants to keep ineffective teachers in New Jersey’s public schools, because students come first.  The debate then gets much more focused and much more productive: How can we achieve that shared objective?” 

NJEA is supporting the tenure reform bill introduced by Assemblyman Diegnan because we believe that it strikes a fair and reasonable balance between the rights of school employees and the students they serve.

This legislation moves us in the right direction by making it harder to earn tenure, and less expensive and time-consuming to remove teachers who are not performing well and are unable to improve.

At the same time, it preserves the just cause and due process rights of our members, while protecting the interests of the students they teach.

We are pleased to be part of this discussion and we thank Assemblyman Diegnan for his efforts to fashion progressive, effective tenure reform legislation.

This legislation removes tenure cases from the courts and puts them in front of arbitrators.  Cases will be resolved much more quickly at a much lower cost.  There will also be far fewer opportunities for either side to appeal an arbitrator’s decision. 

This addresses the concern that many of us share about the length and cost of tenure cases. 

And it should take away a reason districts often cite for their decision not to act when they believe a teacher is not performing up to acceptable standards. 

Under this bill, it will no longer take too long or cost too much to bring tenure charges.   Protracted delay and expensive litigation do not serve the interests of school employees, parents or the students in our public schools.

At the same time, it is imperative that New Jersey preserve due process.  No school employee should be fired from his or her job without just cause, and without the opportunity to have a fair hearing before a neutral third party.

Anything less would not only deny teachers the fundamental fairness they deserve when facing dismissal charges, but would also allow undue political influence over employment decisions in our schools.

If the ultimate goal of education reform is to improve student learning, then tenure reform is only part of the equation.

Employment decisions should be made on the basis of the overall performance of an employee.  It is imperative that the evaluation system be strong, fair and transparent.   

The evaluation system must accurately assess a teacher’s effectiveness, which requires far more than tabulating how that teacher’s students perform on certain standardized tests.

New Jersey’s evaluation system is currently in flux.  It would be far better to agree on how teachers should be evaluated before we create a system outlining how they might possibly lose their jobs on the basis of those evaluations.

With that in mind, we must all work together to ensure that the evaluation system we ultimately settle upon is both educationally sound and reliable enough to make such momentous decisions about the careers of New Jersey’s teachers.

 We do have two suggestions for strengthening this legislation.  First, any tenure reform should affect all public schools, including charters.

Secondly, While this bill makes changes to tenure for all employees, it only changes the evaluation system for teachers, principals, vice principals, and assistant principals.  NJEA believes that any changes should apply to all certificated staff.  All certificated staff should be mentored in their first year and be subject to the same evaluation process.

We look forward to working with Assemblyman Diegnan to make this bill even stronger, and with any other legislators, like Senator Ruiz, who share our commitment to a fast, fair, efficient tenure system that serves the interests of our members, our students, and the public schools of New Jersey.  Thank you.

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