Gov. Chris Christie sent a package of education reform bills to the Legislature Wednesday that would eliminate tenure as teachers know it and offer job protection only to those who consistently show a high level of performance based on new statewide evaluation system.
Under the tenure proposal, teachers would be given one of four ratings — highly effective, effective, partially effective or ineffective — based equally on student performance and classroom observations. Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf first unveiled the evaluation system during an address at Princeton University in February.
Teachers who receive the two highest ratings three years in a row would be eligible for tenure and merit pay, at their district’s discretion. Educators rated partially effective for two consecutive years or ineffective for one year — even if they have previously been highly rated — would lose tenure and could be fired.
"We want tenure to become something good teachers earn," said Christie, who has been advocating education reform for months. "It will not protect bad teachers who stay in front of the classroom.
"What we want is the most effective teachers at the front of every classroom regardless of seniority. Teachers who are effective are not worried about losing their jobs."
Under the current system, most teachers receive tenure after three years and one day on the job. The state has revoked tenure from just 17 teachers over the past 10 years. The process can drag out for years and be very costly to districts.
The tenure proposal is one of seven education reform bills Christie said he hopes will move through the Democrat-controlled Legislature quickly and be implemented by the 2012-13 school year.
Other proposals include:
• Ending the practice known as "last in, first out," which requires districts to lay off less experienced teachers first.
• Promoting what’s known as "mutual consent," which requires principals and teachers to agree on teachers’ assignments to schools.
• Offering bonuses to teachers who work in high needs districts and difficult to staff subject areas like math or science.
• Placing a 30-day deadline on tenure revocation decisions.
• Allowing school districts to opt out of the civil service system.
None of the bills has a sponsor, leaving some legislators questioning the likelihood they will move forward at all.
Tom Hester Jr., a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, said the caucus would review the bills and may introduce competing legislation.
Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D-Middlesex) said he does not support any of the measures, as proposed, and would likely vote against them if they came before his committee.
"Everyone in education agrees that there are no reliable evaluation tools to accomplish what the governor continues to say should be the standard for hiring and retaining teachers," Diegnan said. "Test scores have been tried across the country and consistently produce unreliable results."
Steve Wollmer, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said an evaluation system might drive performance in the corporate world, but won’t in the state’s public schools.
"You should not use standardized test scores to make high stakes personnel decisions," said Wollmer, whose union has consistently battled the governor over education reform. "There are too many factors that affect student test scores that teachers cannot control."
Adam Bauer, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said it is "highly likely" the bills will garner support — and sponsors — from the Republican caucus, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union), who supports the governor’s education reform agenda.
"(Sen. Kean) looks forward to continuing to work with the administration on their shared commitment to saving kids from failing schools and measuring educational success based on outcomes," Bauer said.
Kean could not be reached for comment.
Lynne Strickland, executive director of the Garden State Coalition of Schools, a group of about 100 suburban districts, said Christie’s proposals will prompt "a real dialogue and conversation" about education reform in New Jersey.
She said a number of "stumbling blocks" from teachers’ perspectives, including the proposed changes to teacher compensation and the evaluation process based on assessment.
"The details in the legislation are going to be dramatically important," Strickland said. "That’s why it’s clear this is going to be hashed out. It should be, because this is significant change."
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