A new measure is taking aim at teacher tenure in New Jersey. Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) introduced  the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act (referred to as TeachNJ) last month on February 6. There is broad consensus that the state’s current teacher accountability system is broken, and TeachNJ attempts to do more than just tinker around the edges.

New Jersey earns an overall grade of D+ from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), including a ‘D’ for firing ineffective teachers. Part of the problem is the current evaluation system for teachers rates them as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. As a result, “Ninety five percent of our teachers are being graded as proficient, but only 40 percent of students receive a similar grade” according to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Making student achievement an explicit component of teacher effectiveness evaluations and tenure decisions is a core NCTQ recommendation (National Report, p. 74). However, most states, including New Jersey at the moment, still base teacher tenure on time served—three years typically (National Report, pp. 76 and 77). Eight states require five years before a teacher can be tenured; while three states (Florida, Idaho, and Rhode Island) have effectively ended teacher tenure altogether, awarding only annual contracts to new teachers who earn strong evaluations (NJ Report, p. 95).

Under TeachNJ (Section 22) teachers would instead be rated: ineffective, partially effective, effective, and highly effective, based on multiple objective measures that use student learning growth from one year to the next. It would take a minimum of four years before a newly-hired teacher would be eligible for tenure under the bill. New teachers would be required to complete a first-year mentorship program, and annual evaluations would begin at the end of their second year of teaching. They would then be eligible for tenure after three consecutive effective or highly effective evaluations. After two years of poor evaluations, rated partially effective or ineffective, and no evidence of improvement, teachers could be fired. If tenure is revoked, teachers can file an appeal with an Administrative Law Judge only if the evaluation procedures were not followed. They cannot appeal their evaluation ratings. This change, according to Better Education for Kids, Inc. (B4K), “will reduce the time and expense of the process.”

These changes go a long way toward making tenure a meaningful indicator of teacher effectiveness and ending the practice of  LIFO—“last-in, first-out”—when layoffs are necessary. The bill would empower principals to hire and fire teachers—and other staff—based on school needs rather than seniority. It also gives teachers more say over the schools where they’re assigned. Teachers who are not hired anywhere lose their salary and benefits after one year.

“Research shows that great teaching not only increases student learning, it benefits a child for the rest of his or her life. Great teaching and teachers matter, and every classroom should have one,” according to Derrell Bradford, B4K executive director.

TEACH NJ ensures that teacher evaluations are substantive and that tenure will be based on a demonstrated ability to drive student achievement in the classroom. B4K recommends four sensible elements that should continue to inform tenure reform efforts in New Jersey and across the country.

  • Tenure must be based on how well someone has taught, and not how long.
  • Teachers must be evaluated using multiple measures of student growth.
  • There must be a strong emphasis on mentoring and professional development that provides feedback from the evaluation process so teachers can improve.
  • There must be a fair, but expeditious, process to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.