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Both chambers of the New Jersey state legislature unanimously passed a bill changing the state’s century-old teacher tenure law. The bill is designed to make it harder for teachers to get and retain tenure, and make it easier to remove ineffective teachers.
“By strengthening our professionals, we will ensure that our students have the best teachers in the classroom so that all children – regardless of their background, their ZIP code, or their socio-economic status – will have the opportunities they deserve for educational excellence,” Sen. Teresa Ruiz said in a statement today.
This bill is the culmination of years of debate over how to reform one of the first teacher tenure laws in the country, combining two earlier efforts proposed by Ruiz and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan.
Under the new bill, teachers need at least four years on the job instead of the current three years to be granted tenure. In addition, teachers would also have to continually receive high marks on their evaluations during those four years.
Teachers who post low evaluation scores would be required to go through teacher improvement programs, or face being potentially fired. Any appeals for firing would then be given to arbitrators instead of judges.
“It's not a perfect bill,” the union's president, Barbara Keshishian, said in a statement. “To make it succeed, we need to work just as closely and cooperatively to ensure that New Jersey's teacher-evaluation system is valid, reliable, and fair. But the bill passed by the Legislature today is the right direction for New Jersey right now, and we call on Gov. Christie to sign this important legislation immediately.”
However, in spite of support from both legislative chambers, the bill left out one aspect that Governor Christie requested: an end to teacher seniority rule that often makes younger educators the first casualties of teacher layoffs.
This prompted the New Jersey School Board to its support for the bill, stating that the bill had been watered down too much.
Mary S. Bilik, the association's executive director, criticized the bill stating that school leaders need to consider job performance when recommending that teacher retain a position during a layoff.
“They don't have the authority to do that now, and they still won't have it,” she said in a statement.
However, by dropping the seniority rule, lawmakers were able to gain support from teachers unions.
Lawmakers, feel that the bill will weed out bad teachers without stripping educators of their rights.
“We don't want to politicize the school system,” Diegnan said to The Associated Press. “You don't want a situation where a teacher is afraid to give the mayor's son a 'D' for fear their job is on their line.”
The changes will begin this fall in a select number of districts, with the rest of the state adopting the changes by 2014.
Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions