It Must Be Easier to Fire Bad Teachers

March 6, 2012

 A landmark teacher tenure reform bill got a rocky start during an initial Senate committee hearing Monday in Trenton. The bill took criticism from both sides of the fight — Gov. Chris Christie and the New Jersey Education Association.

Many points are at issue. Among them:

Should there be a grandfather clause for current teachers?

What should happen to teachers who lose tenure?

Should principals have final say over whether a teacher is hired or transferred to their school?

The governor, given his choice, would probably get rid of tenure for school teachers altogether. The NJEA, if given its choice, would probably keep tenure mostly or completely intact as it is now.

In New Jersey, just a tiny, tiny fraction of 1 percent of tenured teachers ever get fired for not doing their job well. It’s not because there aren’t at least one or two bad teachers who deserve to be fired in many districts — there are. It’s because the process to get rid of a teacher, no matter how lazily and/or ineffectively he or she is doing the job, is so time-consuming and expensive that administrators simply don’t bother trying.

So who gets hurt? Kids. They get stuck with a lousy, tenure-protected teacher.

Tenure reform needs to happen, so we’re in support of getting this legislation — S1455 — debated and worked through with some changes so that it can become law.

When we had legislative candidates visiting the Courier-Post Editorial Board in the fall, reforming tenure for teachers was a topic where we heard a lot of similarity in thought from Democrats and Republicans. All the candidates were in agreement that it needs to become much easier, faster and far less expensive for schools in New Jersey to terminate bad teachers.

We agree, and that process does start with the evaluations educators are subject to being more nuanced and entailing more time spent in classrooms seeing them do their job.

Grading teachers based on multiple classroom observations during the school year, student performance and improvement and other factors, and then rating them in one of four categories: highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective, makes great sense and should happen. Likewise, taking away tenure for those teachers rated as partially effective or ineffective if they don’t improve, makes sense and should happen.

A tenure system that gives schools more ability to get rid of those few bad teachers and replace them with good ones should apply in all public schools to all educators without exception. This is long overdue reform.