NEWARK — A new teachers’ contract in New Jersey’s largest city, funded in part by a donation from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, should be a model for the nation on how to remake a struggling public school system through private-public partnership, Gov. Chris Christie said Friday.
Christie, visiting a Newark school with education and union officials, called the signing of a new teacher contract in Newark “the most gratifying day of my governorship, by far.”
“In my heart, this is what I was hoping for, that Newark would lead a transformational change in education in America,” Christie said.
The contract, ratified earlier this week, allows educators to earn more earlier in their careers and offers bonuses for teaching in low-performing schools and hard-to-staff subjects. The performance pay is funded primarily through a $100 million grant from Zuckerberg, with the district allocating $100 million — half from public sources, half philanthropic — to fund the entire contract.
The agreement allows for teachers to receive up to $12,500 in performance pay that is tied to performance reviews. Teachers will be evaluated by a number of factors, including test scores, a panel of peers and administrators, and other student performance benchmarks. Teachers who don’t perform well can be frozen at a pay grade but will have the opportunity to receive mentoring and move up the following year. Those who receive an “ineffective” rating can also elect to be rated by an independent “peer validator” and that review will be considered before determining their final rating. Newark School Superintendent Cami Anderson will have the final say if an agreement on a teacher’s competence can’t be reached.
The contract also includes $31 million in retroactive pay increases for teachers, who had been working without a contract since 2010.
Christie praised the parties involved in the negotiations, including Anderson, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Newark Teachers Union President Joseph Del Grosso and New Jersey Education Commissioner Chris Cerf. He also lauded the leadership of Mayor Cory Booker, who, although he doesn’t have direct control over the state-run district, has made reforming Newark’s struggling schools a priority of his administration.
The Republican governor said the negotiations leading up to the agreement were also a model of how politicians should come together to get things done. He joked that if he could find common ground with Randi Weingarten, who was present at Friday’s announcement, then Democratic President Barack Obama should be able to get along with Republicans in Washington.
Cerf called the contract “revolutionary,” saying it was the first of its kind to offer teachers pay bonuses based on performance and allow them to review one another.
“There are many that believe that public education, especially in our urban centers, is irreparably broken, that it simply cannot be repaired,” Cerf said. “Newark will prove them wrong.”