By Ben Velderman
TRENTON, N.J. – Despite the summer temperatures, New Jersey families should prepare to be snowed under by lawmakers who will try to sell modest changes to the state’s teacher tenure law as meaningful reform.
Under current law, New Jersey teachers are automatically given tenure – the bulletproof job protection that doesn’t exist in the private sector – after three years on the job.
But now, after 18 months of legislative wrangling, lawmakers and teacher union leaders have struck a deal that will require teachers “to pass two annual reviews in the first four years to obtain tenure,” reports MyCentralJersey.com.
If a teacher’s performance is found to be unsatisfactory after he or she receives tenure, an outside arbitrator will be called upon to decide if the teacher stays or goes. (The state is piloting a new teacher evaluation system that uses student test scores to determine a portion of a teacher’s overall effectiveness.)
Under the proposed agreement, tenure will be slightly tougher to get, and it will be possible for ineffective teachers to lose tenure.
At this point, most reform advocates probably find the plan acceptable, if somewhat underwhelming.
But there’s a catch.
Instead of automatically giving ineffective teachers the boot, that decision will be made by an outside arbitrator.
“Teachers who are stripped of tenure could be fired, or an arbitrator could decide to keep a teacher from progressing on the pay scale,” the news site reports.
Suddenly this new “reform” doesn’t seem so impressive, does it?
As long as unions have any say in choosing the arbitrator, experience has taught us that the union will win at least 50 percent of these cases. That means a bunch of bad teachers will remain in the classroom.
It gets worse.
Under the terms of this proposed agreement, “seniority would still be the prime job-protection factor in the event of layoffs, keeping the ‘last in, first out’ system,” reports MyCentralJersey.com.
That means during layoffs, school officials will be forced to fire young, effective teachers, while possibly retaining more senior teachers who managed to survive the arbitration process.
Apparently this is what passes for “reform” in New Jersey. This watered-down tenure bill has the blessing of both the New Jersey Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey. That means the unions’ political surrogates in the state Senate and the General Assembly will pass this bill, lickety-split.
The only question is whether or not Gov. Chris Christie will sign the bill once it reaches his desk. Christie is an outspoken critic of teacher tenure, and may find this compromise to be unacceptable.
But Democratic state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, the bill’s sponsor, is already declaring victory.
“I vote for great teachers, I vote for great professionalism, and I vote that every child has the opportunity for greatness,” Ruiz said as the bill passed her Senate committee on Monday.
Actually, Ruiz voted for a symbolic victory that will do little to help students or transform public education in the Garden State.
And that’s a major disappointment.