N.J. teacher tenure criteria need uniformity

Editorial | The Daily Record
04/14/11

Gov. Chris Christie has problems with the very idea of tenure, but his latest proposals for reforming the process, unveiled last week in a speech at the Brookings Institution, seem to be a recipe for chaos. Not to mention an apparent abrupt about-face on his part.

Christie said he wants to allow individual school districts to develop their own subjective teacher and principal evaluations that would make up half of the overall evaluations each year. The other half would come from growth in test scores, grades and other metrics.

Obviously, principals know their teachers and students better than strangers in Trenton, and local evaluations should have a part in the state standards. But fully half is too much weight.

Under Christie’s new proposal, hundreds of highly political local school boards would determine standards for teachers. How is that going to work and how it can it possibly be fair? It won’t and it can’t be.

There are reasons we have a state Department of Education, and one of them should be having a uniform standard for granting tenure. Teaching standards are not one of those items where letting a thousand different flowers bloom is a good idea.

As Grover J. Whitehurst, director of an education policy center at Brookings, asked, “(How) can the state tolerate a system where it is much easier, say, to be (classified) an exceptional teacher in Asbury Park than it is in Trenton?” Or Newark as opposed to Princeton?

Christie often seems confused about what he wants from local teachers and principals, and indeed muddled in understanding his own role.

“In the same way that only Nixon can go to China, you need a Republican governor who can go into the urban areas and say he cares about those kids,” Christie said.

Really? This is the same Christie who has repeatedly said his policy positions on education are virtually indiscernible from those of President Barack Obama.

The one unchanging element of the governor’s education policy is his loathing of the New Jersey Education Association. Again last week, he called NJEA lobbyists “bullies and thugs.” This name-calling has long since stopped being helpful.

If Christie truly cares about “these kids,” he should realize the importance of their teachers being held to a uniform standard of excellence.

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