State Sen. Teresa Ruiz pushes new teacher tenure reform bill
Jessica Calefati | The Star-Ledger
TRENTON — State Sen. Teresa Ruiz will introduce legislation this week that would overhaul the state’s century-old teacher tenure law while also encouraging bad teachers to improve through professional development, she said in an interview with The Star-Ledger.
The proposal increases the number of years teachers must work before receiving tenure from three to four and mandates that all teachers be evaluated annually using a measure of student performance. Teachers rated poorly two years in a row would be given an individualized plan for improvement before losing tenure.
“I approached this bill through the lens of supporting and elevating the profession, but most importantly with a vision of the children whose futures are at stake,” said Ruiz (D-Essex), who plans to introduce the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act on Thursday.
The bill comes one week after Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) introduced similar tenure reform legislation backed by Gov. Chris Christie that lacks the professional development component prominent in Ruiz’s bill. Both bills require teachers to receive three consecutive years of positive evaluations to receive tenure.
Adam Bauer, a spokesman for the Senate Republicans, said he had not read the TEACHNJ Act yet, but said Ruiz’s efforts bolster the prospect for tenure reform in Trenton.
“Reforming tenure is absolutely essential to making sure every student is being taught by an effective educator,” Bauer said.
The Senate Education Committee chairwoman added that she hopes to have the bill signed into law by June, an ambitious deadline for a Legislature notorious for working slowly.
Though Ruiz’s bill only calls for two levels of evaluation — effective and ineffective — she anticipates the bill will be edited to reflect the four-tiered evaluation system supported by Christie and Kyrillos.
Christie has made education reform a cornerstone of his administration and has proposed additional legislation that would offer merit pay to the best teachers and end a practice known as “last in, first out.” These topics are absent from Ruiz’s legislation because she said it’s “not responsible to throw everything into one bill.” “I’m hoping we will gain support from everyone across the board,” Ruiz said. “This is a very fair bill.”
The TEACHNJ Act would also require principals to lead “improvement panels.” Ruiz described these as teams of administrators and teachers who draft individualized improvement plans for poorly rated teachers. Principals would also have the authority to revoke tenure for teachers who do not heed the panel’s advice.
The New Jersey Education Association has spoken out against the governor’s tenure reform proposals in the past, but spokesman Steve Wollmer said he could not comment fully on Ruiz’s bill until he had read it. The bill’s emphasis on mentoring sounded “encouraging,” he added.
“Professional development is something our organization has always supported, sponsored and funded with our own dues dollars,” Wollmer said. “It is key. The lack of mentoring is why we lose so many young teachers.”
Newark Teachers Union president Joe Del Grosso said he did not need to see the bill to know he would not support it. Del Grosso said he supports a tenure system based on peer review.
“The tenure process we have now is very streamlined,” Del Grosso said. “It wouldn’t be difficult to remove teachers if administrators did their jobs.”