May 25 2012

New Jersey Tenure Policy Puts Quality Teachers at Risk

Vicki E. Alger

New Jersey is taking aim at tenure reform. This would help public school officials in Newark, who are struggling with declining student enrollment, a tight budget, and too many teachers.

Superintendent Cami Anderson told the Associated Press, “It’s no secret that we have more educators than we need to support our declining student population and – because of outdated laws and contracts – we cannot retain the highest quality staff and balance our budget.”

Mayor Cory Booker recently told Philadelphia education reporters that removing tenured teachers is a costly, time-consuming process. In one case, Booker explained, removing just one teacher “who everybody knew was not a good teacher, not serving kids,” cost $400,000 and 29 hearings over the course of 18 months.

“If we could fire the 300 or 400 lowest-performing teachers, (Superintendent Anderson) wouldn’t have a financial crisis,” Booker said. “But her crisis right now is based on the fact that she can’t get rid of teachers that way.”

The Education Action Group has created a helpful (albeit dizzying) flow chart of New Jersey’s current process for firing tenured teachers—which can take anywhere from two to five years.

One shortcoming of the proposed legislation is that only newer teachers would be subject to stricter evaluation procedures that include student achievement gains. Currently tenured teachers would be exempted. This won’t help Newark officials or New Jersey parents.

It is no comfort to a parent of a child with a bad first-grade teacher in front of them to know that five, ten, or twenty years down the road a new teacher will be held to a different standard,” said  Jerry Cantrell, president of the Common Sense Institute of New Jersey.

Remaining in the teaching profession—as with any other profession—should be based on talent, not time served.

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