Education in the Media
On School Reform, Concensus Grows Around Three PrinciplesNovember 27, 2011
From President Obama to Gov. Chris Christie to the New Jersey Education Association to Michelle Rhee, a national consensus is emerging that significant changes must come to public education.
It would have been unthinkable as recently as a year ago, but today the issue isn’t whether the political will exists in New Jersey to disrupt the status quo but how quickly change will come and how far-reaching will it be.
Better Education for Kids’ vision for reform is based on four common-sense tenets. First, the interests of students must be the first priority. Second, there must be an effective teacher in every classroom. Third, teachers must be given the necessary training and resources to be effective. And fourth, all public policy — and all administrative and personnel policies — must support these goals.
These principles are very consistent with the principles in the NJEA’s recently released reform agenda. In fact, NJEA President Barbara Keshishian wrote, “No one wants to keep ineffective teachers in New Jersey’s public schools because students come first,” and that the NJEA is committed to having “a great teacher in every classroom.”
These principles form the basis of the common ground from which bipartisan reform should proceed. The discussion is about the right public policies to achieve — as Keshishian put it, “these shared objectives.” And on these public policy choices, it is critical that New Jersey embrace real reform and not simply the appearance of reform.
Teacher evaluations: The NJEA has acknowledged, and we agree, that a strong evaluation system is the key to other important reforms such as tenure reform. We both also agree that the current evaluation system is not rigorous enough and needs improvement.
New Jersey must develop a fair, transparent and objective evaluation system that substantially relies on growth in student learning. The new system should have multiple ratings for teachers, be based on both student achievement and teacher practice, and there should be multiple measures of student achievement, including standardized tests.
Professional development and mentoring: It is imperative that professional development be focused on student learning and tied into the evaluation system so that teachers get the help they need to improve and succeed.
To this end, Better Education for Kids — or, B4K — supports establishing the position of “teacher leader.” Teacher leaders would coach and mentor other teachers, including inexperienced or ineffective ones, and be recognized and rewarded for their elevated professional status and additional responsibilities. B4K sees this as a creative way to encourage the best teachers, spread best practices and give teachers the help they need to succeed.
B4K also believes that a “residency” or “mentoring” year for beginning teachers that focuses on development is a good idea that will create more effective teachers in the classroom.
Tenure reform: B4K believes that tenure should be earned rather than automatically bestowed after three years of teaching. Specifically, tenure should be earned after three consecutive “effective” annual ratings. Conversely, tenure should be lost either after two consecutive “ineffective” ratings or three ratings of “partially effective” or lower within any five-year period. After being given reasonable opportunity to improve, underperforming teachers should be removed.
Appeals: B4K recognizes that the current appeals process is so costly and time-consuming that it effectively prevents the removal of ineffective teachers. Accordingly, we believe appeals should be limited to claims that the proper process was not substantially followed and to higher authority within the New Jersey education system, not outside it.
Seniority: When layoffs are required, B4K believes that effectiveness as measured by the evaluation system should be the primary determinant of a teacher’s standing. This puts students’ interests first. After that, seniority should be considered. When transfers are sought, mutual consent of the teacher and principal should be required.
With the emerging consensus around what effective reform looks like, now is the time to act. The future of our public schools, our kids and our state is at stake.