Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tenure Agonistes

I understand at this point that Governor Christie is competing only against himself, but how many misleading, incomplete ideas can one person have? If he had more than his ALEC talking points we might be able to have a conversation, but his comments yesterday were truly, amazingly wrong. In case you missed them:
The Christie push came at one of his town hall meetings, this one before more than 600 people in a Haddonfield middle school. He again invoked the example of just 17 teachers facing tenure charges as ineffective in the past decade, out of more than 100,000 in the classroom. "Do we really believe there are only 17 ineffective teachers in New Jersey?" he asked the receptive audience.
No, we don't, and that includes those of us in education. What the governor misses is that hundreds of potentially ineffective tenured teachers are weeded out in the first three years of employment. More leave the profession by the end of their 5th year. And maybe there are only 17 tenure cases because the administrators haven't kept accurate records or gave the teachers a pass because they didn't want to make waves or didn't want to believe that someone they actually hired could be ineffective.

Perhaps the 17 cases are the result of political interference or vendettas against union agitators or are witch hunts. We don't know, and here's the key, neither does the governor. If these 17 teachers deserve to lose their jobs because they are ineffective, I say mazel tov! The system works. But again, all Christie has are the numbers.

As for today's hearings on the Diegnan (D-Middlesex) bill, I am cautiously optimistic. Here are the key provisions of the bill:
  • Tenure would be provided after four years employment in a school district; 
  • A new teacher would spend their first year in a mentorship program during which the new teacher will be partnered with a highly effective teacher for assistance, support and guidance;
  • Each school district would have to annually submit to the education commissioner the evaluation plan it will use to test the effectiveness of teachers and administrators

  • Any teacher or administrator who receives an ineffective rating on two consecutive annual evaluations may face tenure charges;
  • Any teacher or administrator who receives an ineffective rating on three consecutive annual evaluations must face tenure charges;
  • Binding arbitration would be required for any contested tenure cases, with the arbitrator's decision becoming binding and not subject to appeal;
  • The Public Employees Relations Commission would choose the arbitrator from a permanent list of 20, eight of which will be designated by the New Jersey Education Association, eight by the New Jersey School Boards Association and four by the New Jersey Principal and Supervisors Association through mutual agreement.
  • Contested cases would no longer be referred to Administrative Law Judges, and the final determination would no longer be made by the education commissioner;
  • The hearing before the arbitrator must be held within 60 days of the case being assigned, and the arbitrator would have 30 days to render a decision.
As someone who's taught Alternate Route courses, I have always been an advocate for a mentoring year for new teachers. For too long we've assumed that all new teachers have the tools and skills to manage their classrooms and guide students through the curriculum. Many do, but not all. New teachers should learn from the best.

I also welcome the provisions that speed the tenure charge process and move it to arbitration. That the New Jersey School Boards Association is concerned only with who gets to pick the arbitrators is a positive step that should be remedied easily.

My concerns center on who gets to decide if a teacher faces tenure charges after two ineffective evaluations. The bill says that a teacher may face them. What does that mean? Also, requiring a decision in a tenure case in 30 days might lead to rushed judgements. Evidence is not always so cooperative.

I am heartened by Senator Ruiz's reaction to what transpired today. She altered her bill to allow for more seniority rights, after initially wanting to end them.

The key to any tenure reform plan must be the continued due process protection that lies at its heart. Adjusting years or determining who hears a case amount to so much window dressing compared to the constitutional rights inherent in fair dismissal cases. Ruiz and Diegnan recognize this. The Governor doesn't.

For more, please visit and on Twitter @rigrundfest 

No comments:

Post a Comment