Tag Archive: tenure

Sweeney On Tenure

NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney was on Brian Lehrer yesterday. While most of the discussion revolved around the budget and taxes, Lehrer did question Sweeney about tenure:

(9:40) LEHRER: What does tenure mean if you can then remove the teachers who you don’t think are doing a good job?

SWEENEY: Well, what happens is, tenure is after three years in the State of New Jersey… tenure, you had a lifetime job. You know, so if you… seven years, ten years into the job, you could almost, it was impossible almost to get rid of the teacher. Now with the evaluation processes that we’re going to have going forward, teachers aren’t performing as they should be, and they get bad evaluations, we can move to remove those teachers much more quickly.

LEHRER: So does that change tenure, or does that end tenure? Should we say that tenure is over in New Jersey?

SWEENEY: No, tenure still exists, but it’s been (garbled) and modernized. I would say, Brian, it’s been modernized. And honestly, everyone that’s involved gave. So I mean… I want to recognize the teachers unions gave. The governor gave. I gave. We all came and compromised on something that is really going to benefit our children in the long run and there’s a group, B4K, which is another group that’s advocating change, educational change. They did a phenomenal job. So, you know, the pros, the people supporting tenure, the people wanting to end tenure, everyone came together. And we really did a good job reforming it.

A few points:

Lehrer has been one of the few journalists who has really taken the time during this debate to question the premises of those who push for “reform.” I suspect his questions here are somewhat leaning, because he understands that tenure is not a lifetime job guarantee, and it never has been.

Christie Tenure Kabuki

So even though the Ruiz bill passed unanimously in the Assembly and the Senate, Chris Christie still feels he has to pretend like he isn’t going to sign it:

Gov. Chris Christie Tuesday threw some cold water on a high-profile bill that would toughen requirements for teachers seeking tenure, suggesting it doesn’t go far enough a day after state lawmakers in both houses approved it unanimously.

At a town hall in Brick Township, Christie said he hasn’t decided whether he will sign the legislation. Seniority rights for teachers should be scrapped, the governor said, potentially delivering an unexpected roadblock just as the bill (S1455) neared the finish line.

Under current law, the newest teachers are the first to be laid off when budgets are cut, while the most senior teachers are the last to go.

“What happens, of course, as a result is that a lot of the younger and most enthusiastic teachers automatically get taken out,” Christie told the audience of nearly 750. “Whether I sign it or I veto it, the bottom line is we have to get back to considering ‘last in, first out.'”

Oh, sure; Christie’s going to leave the entire Republican caucus of both houses high-and-dry by vetoing the Ruiz bill. He’s really going to make every Republican in the Legislature go home and explain why they voted for a bill that he turned down. Right…

If you believe that one, I’ve got some stock in Edison Learning I’d like to sell you.

Of course he’s going to sign the bill; his Republican bobble-heads in both houses wouldn’t have unanimously passed the thing if it wasn’t a done deal. So why the posturing?

Well, the myth – and let’s be clear, it is a myth – of vast hordes of burned-out senior teachers serves Christie’s purposes well. He can continue to screw teachers out of their promised pensions, justifying his broken promise by intimating that teachers are overpaid to begin with.

He can also tout the non-existent benefits of charter schools, with their high rates of teacher turnover and less-experinced workforces.

But I think there’s something more personal at play here: I think Chris Christie is hopping mad that the NJEA may have pulled a fast one on him.

Over at my blog, I’ve broken down the proposals leading up to the final Ruiz bill: Christie’s, NJEA’s, and Ruiz’s original bill. Here, I add B4K’s proposal into the mix. In every proposal except NJEA’s, there was:

– The elimination of seniority in layoff decisions.

– Mutual consent, a process that requires principals to sign off on in-district transfers (and consequently makes it more difficult for senior teachers to retain their jobs).

– The elimination of due process before a third party when firing a tenured teacher.

Christie also wanted merit pay and the elimination of salary guides. None of this survived the final bill. It is hardly a stretch to say that NJEA won several major victories here.

And that must bug Christie to no end. After all, he has been on an irrational and unseemly jihad against teachers and their union from day one. He must be sorely pissed that he got played. So, before he gets out his pen and grudgingly signs the bill, one last fit of pique. He just can’t help himself.

He can console himself with one thing, however: he has pretty much left the door open toward using standardized tests to evaluate teachers, a point made very well in this op-ed by two teachers from the New Jersey Teacher Activist Group.

This will undoubtedly be the next big fight. Whether Christie has the momentum to carry it out is another matter.

Love Fest II

Last week, the Assembly Education Committee passed a tenure reform bill with all stakeholders lavishing praise on the legislators and on one another for coming up with a bill that was acceptable to all. Not to be outdone, today the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee heard from many of the same folks, and the love fest continued. Senator Teresa Ruiz, the author of the Senate version, was the target of most of the adoration.

As Republican Senator Kevin O’Toole noted, “To see John Tomicki [of the League of American Families] and the NJEA [simultaneously] praise this effort…speaks volumes.”

While the GOP abstained as a bloc in the Assembly, today’s vote was unanimous for the Senate bill (which Governor Christie said he will support). No one went away completely happy. The NJEA objected to the fact that taxpayer-funded charter schools are not subject to these reforms. The New Jersey Press Association testified that the process for tenure hearings will not be transparent. Some praised the fact that this was a first step in the goal of complete elimination of tenure.

Here’s the complete testimony. Let us know what you think. Is this kumbaya or is it a sell-out?

A Tale of Two Tenure Bills

Today, Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure bill will most likely make it out of her committee; this follows on the heels of Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan’s bill, which was approved by his committee last Thursday (despite the abstentions of the Republican members).

Given the momentum, it’s quite likely the two bills will be reconciled, put to full votes, and eventually land on Chris Christie’s desk. But before looking at what it will take for the Assembly and Senate versions to become compatible, it’s worth noting what the Ruiz bill has already given up:

1) Seniority. An earlier version of the Ruiz attempted to supplant seniority with teacher “effectiveness” when schools make high-stakes personnel decisions. This would have been a disaster. The fact is that all serious research has shown very high error rates when using student achievement – primarily gauged by standardized test scores – to determine “effectiveness.” We also know that experience does correlate to student achievement, despite the attempts by reformyists to twist the research to show otherwise.

Using seniority to make layoff decisions may be imperfect, but it’s precise, and it has real correlation to student achievement. Using test scores is unreliable, invalid, AND imprecise. Losing the provision gutting seniority was a win for schools, students, and teachers.

2) Appeals to an outside authority. This one was a no-brainer: if you turn over all high-stakes decisions to school boards, they run the risk of turning into Elizabeth. New Jersey, incredibly, has managed to largely keep cronyism out of the classroom (although keeping it out of the DOE is another matter). The old Ruiz bill would have allowed firing decisions to occur subject only to appeal within the district. Fortunately, reason prevailed.

These two changes are a big win for what is, arguably, the best school system in the nation. But I am concerned about provisions left in the bills:

1) Categories of effectiveness. Both bills seek to establish a four-tier system for teacher effectiveness; yet there is no evidence that this can be done accurately, and no evidence it will help student achievement anyway.

The “highly effective” rating is especially troubling: what is its purpose? A platform for trying out merit pay, which we know doesn’t work?

What’s worse is that we still don’t know how we are going to evaluate teachers anyway, as still aren’t past the pilot stage of the new program. Which brings us to…

2) The start date. How can we possibly write into statute an evaluation system that hasn’t even been designed yet? How can we spell out what it takes for a teacher to be deemed “ineffective” when we don’t even know what what the evaluation system will look like?

And what happens when Governor Buono (let’s hope!) appoints a new Commissioner of Education in 2014? What if they decide to take teacher evaluation in a whole new direction – one based on actual research? Why write things into statute that will change based on both political considerations and ongoing research?

The bills should deal solely with the tenure process itself, and not with the criteria for deeming a teacher “ineffective.”

I have some other concerns: the legislation should spell out more clearly what happens to teachers who arrive from other states with full certifications and extensive work experience; it seems to me a mentor year would be a waste. There should be uniformity in evaluation and tenure across all certificated employees in schools. And charter schools can’t claim to be public schools if they don’t follow the same rules as all other public schools.

That said, I am actually fairly pleased with how far these bills have come. Common sense is beginning to rule; let’s hope it stays that way.

Tenure Agonistes

Great post from a couple days ago – promoted by Rosi

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.

Assembly Education Committee Passes Tenure Reform

The Assembly Education Committee today passed a bill on tenure reform after hearing from the NJEA, the School Boards Association, administrators, and other interest groups. Prior to the hearings, I spoke with Steve Wollmer, Director of Communications for NJEA. Click on the icon to hear that interview.

I’ll post my thoughts and video of the hearings later today.

Ruiz on Tenure

promoted by Rosi

This just in from state Senator Teresa Ruiz:

“Tenure reform will boost respect for the profession,” Ruiz said.

“It will turn teaching into something that’s evaluated and tenure into something that’s honorable, not a job protection defined by time.”

It’s nice to know that the author of a bill that will shape the course of teaching and learning in New Jersey doesn’t understand that tenure is a fair dismissal due process right, not a job protection defined by time. It’s also nice to know that she doesn’t realize that teachers are evaluated (or should be) by their principals or supervisors over the course of the academic year.

Evaluating teachers using student test scores will not lead to teachers gaining more respect. It will lead to teaching to the test and a curriculum that is narrowly focused on that test.

I’m looking forward to the hearings on June 14.

Speaking Truth to Power on Teacher Tenure

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

Are we really going to have to go through this every time a so-called education reformer gets kicked in the head by politics? Evidently so.

Case in point? The Passion of Perth Amboy Superintendent of Schools Janine Walker Caffrey as related by the Gospel of Tom Moran in Sunday’s Newark Star-Ledger. When we last left the story, Moran was singing Caffrey’s praises as someone who was trying to get rid of ineffective teachers in her district. The problem was that through either ineptitude or poor management, the principals in Perth Amboy were giving satisfactory evaluations to people who should not have been in the classroom. Then, when these teachers showed their true colors, there was no paper trail of their ineffectiveness. My take on this is in Lies, Damn Lies, and the Truth About Teacher Tenure.

What a Tenure-Free Future Looks Like

Transcript of recorded conversation

Office of Freeholder xxxxx xxxxx

County of xxxxx, NJ

April 3, 2015

Hello?… Joey, hey how are you?… Good, good… Yeah, I got your email… OK, let me see if I got this right:

You’ve got a councilman who needs a favor for his niece: she’s an artist… yeah, young people, what’re you goin’ do?… and she needs a job, and is thinking about teaching. No training as a teacher, no education degree… yeah, don’t worry, that’s fine, we’ll get her into an alternate route thing…

And then you’ve also got this “friend” who’s been “generous.” He’s got a kid who wants to be a bowling coach. We could make that happen, but why don’t we make him a teacher too; then he can coach during the season, and teach during the rest of the year. Is he good at anything?… You think he’s OK at math?… Yeah, I think we can do something…

How can I hook them up? OK, here’s the deal: in the last election, we managed to get several of our friends on one of the local school boards. And since the Ruiz bill passed back in 2012… yeah, the TEACHNJ Act… that’s right, since it passed, we can make a lot of things happen that we couldn’t make happen before. So here’s what our friends on the school board are telling me…

Let’s start with the niece. The local union vice-president is an art teacher, and I gotta tell you, Joe – she’s a big pain in the ass. Tough negotiator, always active in union business, always making a big stink about working conditions, calling out incompetent administrators… yeah, you know the type. I’ll tell you, there are quite a few people on the board who’d be happy to see her go who aren’t even our “friends,” you know?

Well, now that the Ruiz bill is in place, it only takes one bad review to rate her as “ineffective,” which she got last year. Yeah, her principal and the superintendent are sick of her, so they’ll gladly write her another bad review, and it doesn’t even matter if they don’t know the first thing about teaching art…

Yeah, you’re right, there is another teacher who sits on a committee that oversees her evaluation. But you know what? The bill didn’t clearly define that committee’s power. And the teacher who sits on it doesn’t want to lose his job; he’ll play along…

How long will this take? Joey, that’s the beauty of this thing: she was rated “ineffective” immediately. There wasn’t an appeal, there wasn’t an outside source to confirm anything… and because she’s an art teacher, there weren’t even tests to show if her kids were learning. She’s going to lose her tenure, she won’t get a new contract, and she’ll be gone by the end of June. Tell the councilman to have his niece put together her resume right now… Yeah, it’s just a formality, but we’ve got to keep up appearances, you know?

OK, the bowling coach… yeah, I know just the spot for him. We’ve got the 7th Grade math teacher who’s… well, let’s just say he’s “different” than most other folks in the rest of the town. You know what I mean?… Yeah, he would kinda stand out if he showed up at the next church social…

The board made sure the superintendent gave him some challenging students again this year… yeah, his test scores won’t be so great. This has been going on for a couple of years now, so he’s going to be rated “partially effective” for another year…

No…no, you gotta understand this: he doesn’t get a hearing. He doesn’t get to explain his situation. He’s just gone if the principal says so; and if the superintendent says so, the principal says so; and if I say so, the super says so. You understand? Yeah… yeah, exactly: there’s no more oversight outside of the district. As long as our people run the board, we make all the decisions.

So let’s get this kid the math job, and then we’ll make him the bowling coach at the high school… The current coach? Joe, do you think he’s gonna make any waves about this? Or the athletic director?… Exactly – everybody’s running scared now. No one’s standing up for themselves anymore, just how we like it…

Yeah… yeah, I never thought we’d be able to have this much juice in the schools. Gotta hand it to Elizabeth: they paved the way. We’ve got all these teachers under our thumbs, making contributions to campaigns, working the polls, scared of losing their jobs if they don’t… yeah, it’s going to be great at the next election…

What’s that? How are the students doing?


Oh, you son of a… (laughter) oh, you dirty… (laughter) …you had me going there for a second!… (laughter) …I thought you were serious!…

OK… yeah, OK, let me know when you need another favor… No, you can email me at my county address. Yeah, it’s fine: this is now all perfectly legal… yeah, say hi to the senator for me. So long…

(end transcript)

Q. Are We Not Teachers? The Devolution of Education

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

We seem to have come to a critical point in the education deform movement. No, that’s not a typo: I don’t mean reform, I mean deform, because the people who want to use unreliable and faulty data to evaluate teachers and deny educators their negotiated due process rights are not reformers and never have been. They are out to twist education from a public responsibility to a privatized option whose purpose is to serve the needs of their wealthy supporters at the expense of unions and educators who know best how the system works and how it can best serve children.