NJEA President Keshishian: Christie's teacher tenure proposals 'have no basis in reality'

Tom Hester, Sr. | The New Jersey News Room
04/13/11

Barbara Keshishian, president of the New Jersey Education Association, the statewide teachers’ early Wednesday evening issue a statement in response to Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed seven-bill package to alter the tenure standards for public school educators, provide merit pay for good teachers and allow school districts to opt out of Civil Service System protections for employees.

“Governor Christie’s proposals should get a full public airing, so they can be debated and discussed in the context of genuine educational outcomes.

“Unfortunately, most of his proposals represent a top-down, corporate carrot-and-stick approach that has no basis in reality in the public schools. In addition, most of his proposals run absolutely counter to accepted research. They may make great bumper sticker slogans, but they won’t result in better teaching, more learning, or higher-level critical thinking.

“Evaluating teachers with a heavy emphasis on student test scores runs absolutely counter to the prevailing research, and a symposium held last Jan. 19 at Educational Testing Service supports that point. Too many factors beyond a teacher’s control affect student test scores, because they occur in the home or in the community. And the last thing we need is more testing, in more subjects, in all grades. Parents, teachers, and administrators already know there is too much time spent on drilling for standardized tests. Under the governor’s proposal, that would become a daily obsession.

“NJEA has always been willing to have teachers receive additional compensation for greater responsibilities, such as when they serve as teacher leaders in their buildings or districts. But Governor Christie’s merit pay proposal fails to understand that truly successful schools are collaborative learning communities, where teachers share best practices, good ideas, and novel approaches. If he thinks having teachers compete for a pool of bonus money will result in a better school, he doesn’t understand what makes a great school. Collaboration — not negative competition — is why effective schools are successful.

“We agree that the process for dismissing a tenured teacher should be streamlined, because right now it usually takes too long, and costs too much. That’s why NJEA has proposed a bill similar to legislation passed in Massachusetts in 1992 that will take the courts out of the tenure dismissal process, and replace judges with certified national arbitrators. If the governor believes it takes years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to dismiss a tenured teacher, this would require dismissal cases to be heard and decided in 60 to 90 days at a fraction of the cost.

“As for the governor’s latest attack on seniority, he would love to be able to replace veteran teachers with newcomers at half the cost in salary so he can cover up his cuts to public education. But experience is a valuable factor in a teacher’s ability, because veteran teachers are leaders in their schools, helping to mentor younger teachers while being major contributors to curriculum development and best practices.

“We welcome a full and open debate on these issues.”

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