Education in the Media
State Senate Committee Approves Bill that Links Teacher Tenure to PerformanceJune 18, 2012
TRENTON — The first major change toNew Jersey’s tenure law in a century, but one that leaves intact the practice of laying off teachers based on seniority, won unanimous backing today of a Senate committee.
After a lengthy hearing that included testimony from New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian, education advocates and parents, the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee voted, 13-0, to send the bill to the full Senate for a vote.
Today’s vote means bills on the issue have won committee approval in both houses of the Legislature.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz, (D-Essex), who sponsored the Senate bill, said it was a compromise among lawmakers and "stakeholder," and was "elated" the measure passed.
"Compromise did take the course of this bill from one point to another, but compromise did not interfere with us accomplishing what will be today a historic vote," she said. "This will create a very fair way that will ensure every classroom has the best (teacher)."
The bill requires every school board to adopt a new teacher evaluation system with four rating categories, from "ineffective" to "highly effective." New teachers will earn tenure after four years if they complete a year of mentoring, then receive two annual ratings of "effective" or "highly effective" within a three-year span.
Student progress will be one of the measures used to gauge teacher effectiveness.
To keep tenure, teachers must continue to demonstrate effectiveness; after two "ineffective" ratings or one "ineffective" after a "partially effective" rating, tenure charges would be brought by the school superintendent. Tenure charges will then be handled by an arbitrator instead of an administrative law judge, which is the current system.
Also under the current system, once a teacher is granted tenure after three years, is it almost never taken away. And when tenure charges are brought, it can take years to resolve.
The New Jersey School Boards Association spoke most strongly against the bill, saying it would not end the practice of laying off teachers based on seniority, a practice known as "last in, first out." An earlier version of the bill did address "last in, first out."
"The war is on," Michael Vrancik, the association’s governmental relations director, said after testifying. "There’s more to fight."
Ruiz said the issue will be "at the forefront when continuing discussions."
Gov. Chris Christie had made elimination of seniority rights a major piece of his education reform agenda.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said today "we have been supportive of Senator Ruiz’s efforts on tenure reform and await the final bill."
The issue of tenure reform has been at the forefront since Christie became governor. Ruiz said she has spent nearly two years in ongoing discussions, drafts and re-drafts. The bill was amended numerous times.
Sangeeta Ranade, a Jersey City school board member who testified today — saying she was speaking as the mother of a public school child — called the bill "a gift to students and teachers alike."
Among the bill’s supporters is the state’s largest teachers’ union, the New Jersey Education Association. Union President Barbara Keshishian said the NJEA is pleased to support the measure: "It makes tenure harder to earn," she said.Sangeeta Ranade, a Jersey City school board member who testified today — saying she was speaking as the mother of a public school child — called the bill "a gift to students and teachers alike."
She did suggest, however, that tenure reform should apply to "all public schools — including charter schools."
The American Federation of Teachers, Garden State Coalition of Schools, Democrats for Education Reform and New Jersey Chamber of Commerce also testified in favor of the Senate bill.
The Assembly education committee advanced a tenure bill last week.