Who We Are
B4K believes that if we are to provide our children with the education our state constitution requires and prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, we must reward and support excellence in the teaching profession. Research has shown that no in-school factor – not class size, not school attended, not facilities has a greater impact on student performance than a great teacher, and we believe that every New Jersey student should have the opportunity to learn from a great teacher.
Why Focus on Teachers?
A significant body of recent research confirms what everyone knows: teachers matter, and great teachers can and do change kids’ lives for the better. Not only do great teachers produce significant and lasting improvement in students’ academic performance, but they also influence their life outcomes as well. Please see here and here for discussion of these groundbreaking studies, as well as Nick Kristoff’s excellent op-ed on the subject in the New York Times here.
Put simply, our teachers are the single most important part of the NJ public education system, and it is inconceivable that any significant reform could occur without due regard for teachers and the teaching profession.
Why Does NJ Need Education Reform Now?
First, New Jersey citizens want education reform. New Jerseyans love their teachers but they also overwhelmingly support common-sense reforms. Several recent polls indicate that New Jerseyans consistently back modernizing tenure and tying it to teacher performance. For example, the most recent Quinnipiac poll saw voters support tenure reform by 60% to 32% against. Likewise, a 2011 Rutgers poll, 64% of adults approved of linking tenure to a new evaluation system to 32% disapproval. Please see the “NJ Education Facts” section of the website for a full accounting of five recent polls on education reform and the overwhelming public support for reform policies.
There are also sound policy-based reasons to back education reform now. NJ teachers can be rightly proud of the fact that NJ ranks among the top states in performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). However, simply measuring NJ against other states does not capture the reality of the 21st century global economy or the economic and educational advances of other countries. As a nation, our students are falling behind other nations on international assessments. New Jersey must improve its education system to preserve our economic preeminence in the world and provide for a better future for all our citizens.
In addition, looking at the absolute performance of our students on the 2011 NAEP – rather than relative to other states – fewer than half of NJ students were deemed “proficient” across fourth- and eighth-grade math and reading. And while it certainly true that many NJ schools do much better than the average – particularly those not subject to the difficult conditions in many poor communities – it is also true that fewer than half NJ non-minority students are proficient in fourth- and eighth-grade science, and less than 40% are proficient in 12th grade math. There is room for improvement here.
And sadly too many NJ schools do worse than NJ’s NAEP average. It is simply a fact that NJ has one of the highest achievement gaps between wealthy and poor students in the nation. We have made progress in closing this gap, but more clearly needs to be done.
Just as great teachers can change kids’ life outcomes, part of the solution to the achievement gap is improving the quality of teachers in our urban schools. The NJ Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights issued a 2010 report (see full discussion here) stating that teacher quality is a critical determinant of student achievement, particularly for poor and minority students. Too often schools in poor districts have fewer highly qualified teachers than more affluent schools. Indeed, the report argues that for these underserved districts, teacher quality is a civil rights issue.
Lastly, several studies of the NJ education system by nationally recognized education research institutions tell us that even though NJ often ranks high among the states, there is ample room for improvement.
Please see the “NJ Education Facts” section of our website for the full NAEP results, data on the achievement gap and US performance on international tests, and independent rankings of the NJ school system.
Teachers Support Basic Education Reforms
A recent survey of 10,000 teachers from around the country shows that when teachers are asked for their honest, professional opinions, they support many reform policies. 99% of teachers agree that “engaged and effective” teachers are very important for student learning. A large majority also says that student achievement is the most important measure of their performance.
Likewise, teachers believe that student achievement should be assessed by multiple measures, including performance in the classroom, on standardized tests and on other assessments. Teacher performance should be evaluated using multiple measures, including student achievement, observations by educators, content knowledge and parent/student surveys.
And teachers support tying personal decisions like tenure to teacher performance. 89% agree that tenure should reflect evaluations of teacher effectiveness, 92% say tenure should not protect ineffective teachers, and 80% say that tenure should be periodically re-evaluated. Only 24% say tenure should be based solely on seniority. In addition, only 14% of teachers believe that seniority should be the most important factor when considering workforce reductions, 74% believe it should be considered along with other measures and 12% believe it should the least important factor. (For more on this teacher survey, please see here).
Where We Currently Stand
New Jersey recently passed a new tenure reform and teacher (and principal) evaluation law called TEACHNJ that brings how well students are learning into the teacher evaluation process and ties tenure to teacher performance, not simply to time served as in the previous system. Importantly, the new system requires that teachers get consistent, data-driven, high quality feedback. Mandated School Improvement Panels are responsible for providing professional development derived from the evaluations. New teachers will be assigned mentors. Struggling teachers will get the help they need to improve.
Currently, New Jersey is in the second year of a teacher evaluation pilot program that encompasses 30 districts covering 168,000 students. This fall, the new evaluation system will roll out to every New Jersey school. NJDOE is currently holding information sessions to explain the new system and roll-out to teachers and administrators, and to help provide answers to questions. We urge all teachers to visit the NJDOE website and inquire with your school adminstration for more information.
How Can We Improve the NJ Education System?
1. TEACHNJ Modernizes the Teaching Profession with a New Evaluation System that Prioritizes Student Learning
Research shows that the best way to evaluate teachers is to use multiple measures of teacher performance that include both objective measures of student progress (how students perform) as well as classroom observations of teacher practice (how teachers teach). Research also shows that the single best measure for predicting the future success of a teacher in improving student outcomes is the “value added” analysis – that is, how students perform on standardized tests.
Opponents argue that standardized tests should not be used as a factor to evaluate teachers, but the research says otherwise. These critics claim that the use of test data as a factor will make teachers “teach to the test.” But research shows that high value-added teachers do not simply “teach to the test” but rather improve students’ overall learning and attitudes. Please see here for a fuller discussion of the research cited above.
TEACHNJ uses multiple measures that include "value-added" measures. But it will also serve as the basis for relevant and systematic feedback and professional development. Because great teachers are so important in driving better student outcomes, TEACHNJ will identify great teachers and effective practices so that others may learn from them. Likewise, it will identify areas where teachers need support to help them improve. Finally, TEACHNJ will identify struggling teachers and provide them with a path to effectiveness.
2. Align Personnel Policies with Teacher Performance
The purpose of all personnel policies should be to ensure that every classroom has an effective teacher. When we allow ineffective teachers to remain teaching children, the children suffer, but so do other teachers who must deal with the consequences of kids who have failed to learn at an acceptable rate.
TEACHNJ has made tenure a significant professional achievement rather than an automatic and permanent reward for time served. Student and teacher performance, as reflected in evaluations, will be significant factors in any decision to grant tenure. If, after being given additional help and a reasonable opportunity to improve, a teacher continues to be ineffective, that teacher will be replaced with an effective one.
But there is more to be done. We have to retain and make the most of our best teachers by providing them with enhanced career and compensation opportunities such as increased compensation for hard–to-teach subjects, elevated professional status, mentoring and peer development responsibilities, and incentives for placement into high-needs schools or districts. Teaching should emulate the best in other modern professions where success is rewarded and the best personnel and practices are implemented broadly and systematically.
We must also end the common layoff policy known as “last in first out” or LIFO, which releases teachers based solely on how long they have taught and not how well. If layoffs are necessary, they must be based on teacher performance first and foremost, instead of relying solely on seniority as in the current system. Seniority and teacher experience are important, but they cannot be the only determinative factors in granting tenure or making layoffs.
3. Empower Principals and Hold Them Accountable for Excellence in their Schools
Along with our goal of a great teacher in every classroom, every school must also have a great principal. Having a leader and motivator to guide, support and empower teachers is essential to the success of a school. Excellence must be fostered from above.
As with teachers, under TEACHNJ principals will also be evaluated on their ability to drive student outcomes. Principals will have significant input into the teacher evaluation and feedback process and will hold teachers accountable for their performance. However, principals must also have the authority to assemble their team of educators, and teacher placement must be by mutual consent of both the principal and the teacher. Principals must be accountable for attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers and removing ineffective teachers.
Working together, we can make the New Jersey public schools a model for a modern, effective and successful education system that prepares all of its students for a productive role in the global economy of the future. We want a better education for all New Jersey kids. Join us now. We cannot do it without you and without you it won’t be done.