Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Teacher Tenure Reform in New Jersey- Unanimous Bipartisan Support AND Union Buy-in

In what is sure to amount to historic legislation, New Jersey recently passed teacher tenure reform for its public school teachers. What is noteworthy is that the voting clearly indicated that the New Jersey Education Association and the state’s legislature are in FULL (read unanimous) agreement on tenure reform in education, a key issue holding high priority across the nation.

Barbara Keshishian, President of the NJEA, applauded the New Jersey Assembly’s passage of tenure reform legislation on June 25, 2012. The 79-0 vote, following on the heels of last week’s 40-0 vote in the New Jersey Senate, was the culmination of many contentious months of meetings and discussions involving legislators and education stakeholders from across the state. Action on the tenure reform legislation now heads to the desk of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for what is sure to be a major accomplishment of the Governor's administration.

Among 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.

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 the NJEA finally supported recently:

  • 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.
The passage of this law in a very union heavy state indicates that historic change is underway in education’s environment, not only in New Jersey, but across the nation. Committed, education stakeholders must work together to build innovative reforms that accelerate 21st century transformations that benefit learning and education’s key focus: the integrity of equity, value, and relevance in educational opportunities and meaningful experiences for all learners.

For information from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) please click HERE.

For a very interesting pro/com discussion on teacher tenure, please take a look at this great web site by clicking HERE.

Picture: Hoboken Ferry Terminal, Barclay Street, New York, 1931 (photographer: Berenice Abbott)