Group Gives NJ Low Marks for Teacher Standards

January 25, 2012

 January 25, 2012 (WPVI)  New Jersey's report card from a group that seeks to improve standards for the nation's teachers is dismal: D-plus, 36th in the U.S. and making less progress than most states.

The report, scheduled to be published Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality, could bolster parts of Gov. Chris Christie's education overhaul agenda - though his critics say it shouldn't.

The analysis considers how teachers are trained, evaluated, rewarded and fired.

But it does not assess the overall state of teaching and learning. That's an area where, on average, New Jersey is among the highest-performing states - despite being home to low-performing schools, particularly in its most impoverished cities.

Some of the areas Christie wants to fix are the same ones the Washington-based research and policy group says are broken.

"What the governor has proposed with evaluation and tenure would put New Jersey among the trailblazer states," said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the teacher quality organization.

New Jersey's grade barely budged from the "D'' it received from the council two years ago. Florida, a state where standardized test scores are far short of New Jersey's, received the highest mark this year - and it got just a "B."

Jacobs said several states are revising - or like New Jersey, considering changing - how teachers are evaluated and granted tenure, upending longstanding job-security provisions for educators. But Jacobs said few states have made much progress on raising requirements for colleges' teacher education programs.

Finding ways to make teachers more accountable for how well students perform has been a major trend in education policy debates over the last few years in Washington and in many states, including New Jersey.

Christie wants half of teacher evaluations based on measures of student performance - including standardized tests and other measures that districts can choose. He also wants those evaluations to have consequences, including merit-based pay raises for top teachers and loss of tenure job protections for those who repeatedly get low marks.

The governor also wants districts to be able to get rid of low-performing teachers, rather than the last ones hired, in the event of layoffs.

Critics, including the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, say that while it might make sense to link teacher evaluations to student performance, some of the methods Christie is pushing are unproven and could be unfair. The NJEA has proposed its own tenure system changes while indicating there's room to compromise with the governor on teacher evaluations.

Steve Baker, an NJEA spokesman who has not seen the NCTQ report, questioned conclusions that could be drawn from it.

"The system that New Jersey has in place has led to a teacher workforce that has accomplished some of the highest student achievement in the nation," Baker said Tuesday. "To say that our system is failing flies in the face of the results our schools are achieving."

The teacher quality group generally supports the same changes Christie wants. And Jacobs said she waited to finalize the state's grade because it appeared some changes that could raise the state's marks could be forthcoming..

The group gave the state no better than a middling grade in each of the main areas covered in the report: Delivering well-prepared teachers, D-plus; expanding the teacher pool, "C;" identifying effective teachers, D-plus; retaining effective teachers, C-minus; exiting ineffective teachers, "D."

The report on New Jersey is 166 pages long and it evaluates whether the state has implemented a litany of specific policy recommendations. Many of the recommendations would likely face some political opposition if they were proposed in New Jersey.

The group did find a few bright spots in the state, where it said New Jersey has best practices: It found its standards for high school science teachers are high, and the state is good at dismissing teachers who do not meet licensure requirements.