Tenure for teachers will take a year longer to earn, be tougher to achieve and easier to lose under a new law signed Monday by Gov. Chris Christie.
And for school districts and the state Department of Education, the hard work of implementing the law and the teacher evaluations will dominate the next school year.
Even as he signed the bipartisan bill, Christie called on the state Legislature to address other measures he supports that did not make it into the bill. Those include eliminating the last-in/first-out process of reducing jobs, and adding a pay scale not based solely on time served.
“We are taking a huge leap forward in providing a quality education and real opportunity to every student in New Jersey,” Christie said. “But our work to develop laws that put students first is not done.”
The TEACHNJ law, which stands for Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey, passed unanimously in the Legislature in June. It had the support of the state’s largest teacher’s union, which was active in its development and will now track its implementation.
“It’s like we built the house, but now we have to put the foundation under it,” said Steve Wollmer, spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association. “It’s not the best way, but it’s what we have.”
Under the new law, tenure will be earned after four years, rather than three. New teachers will be mentored their first year. They will then have to earn at least two evaluation ratings of “effective” or “highly effective” in the next three years to obtain tenure.
Tenured teachers or principals who get either two “ineffective” ratings in a row, or a “partially effective” followed by “ineffective” ranking, will face tenure charges and dismissal. Contested cases will go to binding arbitration through the Department of Education rather than an administrative law judge, a measure designed to expedite the process and save money.
A legislative analysis of the potential costs estimated $52.4 million for teacher evaluations and $11.9 million for principal evaluations. The law also requires the state to pay for all costs, including tenure case arbitration.
Eleven school districts, including Ocean City in Cape May County, participated in a pilot evaluation process in 2011-12. Stafford Township in Ocean County will participate in a pilot principal evaluation program during the 2012-13 school year.
Every district must develop a plan for evaluations during the 2012-13 year, which must be approved by the state Department of Education. The state Board of Education last week introduced new regulations for the evaluation process.
Judith Destefano-Anen, superintendent in Stafford Township, said the district wanted to be part of the development process because research has shown that principals are crucial to a school’s success.
“We want to be in the forefront so we can help mold the process rather than just get it delivered to us,” she said. The kindergarten through sixth-grade district of about 2,400 students has five schools.
Ocean City Superintendent Kathleen Taylor said the district did a lot of valuable training during 2011-12, and she sees the value of using an established set of expectations for the process. The district used a framework developed by educator Charlotte Danielson, which includes an online tool that gives immediate feedback to the teacher and suggests professional development options where needed.
“I think it was helpful to have the rubric because everyone could see what was expected,” Taylor said. She said a “highly effective” ranking is a very demanding standard.
“You don’t live there,” she said. “It’s a place you go once in a while.”
Teachers will get to see how they did on the pilot evaluations, and the district will compare the evaluations against the 2012 student test scores, though the state will not give districts their new “student growth percentile” measures until the fall, too late for major changes in the classroom.
“We really need them in the summer, so we could use them to plan changes needed in the fall,” Taylor said.
Taylor said teachers were supportive and professional throughout the process, but there are still statewide challenges to full implementation, including the evaluation criteria, the time and staffing it takes to do longer and more numerous evaluations, and funding the process. Ocean City got almost $82,000 from the state to fund its pilot program, which did not cover all costs.
“We are committed,” she said. “But we are still asking how do we manage it.”
A major issue is the role and weight given to state tests, especially when not every subject and grade is tested. The law calls for evaluations to be based on “multiple measures” but state tests are included as one of those measures.
“How do you ensure fairness in the nontested areas, like art or social studies?” Taylor asked.
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