A hot topic of 2010 in the state of New Jersey has been education and reforms or lack there of by the Christie administration. He has been on a crusade to take teachers unions down a peg. Most of his moves have been good in lessening the excessive benefits that teachers in New Jersey have accrued over the years. However, he has let that at times negatively affect teachers and students whether it be job losses or job creation or program losses or program gains. One of the most publicized losses was millions of dollars via the Race to the Top program that could have helped rehire teachers and ensure that students are given key resources to further their education and academic development.
With education in mind, NJEA began to seriously address pressing issues related to teachers in the state of New Jersey including teacher tenure. That need for addressing teacher tenure and tackling those education issues was echoed in bipartisan unison. Governor Christie and state Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) both stated the need to rework how teachers acquire tenure. Christie spoke of teacher tenure being something that both sides of the aisle could agree needs to be changed. Something that makes a lot of sense was stated: children should take priority over adults. That is something that individuals like former education chancellor of D.C. public schools, Michelle Rhee, have stated. Teachers have had teachers unions to back their interests, but there have been few fighters for the children, whom education should benefit most.
Teachers have been allowed to be rewarded regardless if they are successes or failures in ensuring that students advance through academic levels and are on a course to graduate and further their education and career goals.
State Senator Ruiz chairs the Senate Education Committee, which heard comments from several experts late last week on how to tweak teacher tenure in the state. The hearing with the NJEA forum are signs that there might be the necessary commitment to making the necessary changes to a part of the state’s educational system when it comes to putting good teachers in classrooms.
Ruiz is processing information from this hearing to form legislation that could be passed early next year.
Those who spoke before the Senate Education Committee echoed similar comments: young educators need more mentoring from their older peers, the teacher evaluation system is in need of a fix, and there need to be improvements in how to handle poor teachers; including their dismissal.
Additionally, perspective not only came from officials in the state of New Jersey, but there was some outside perspective; most notably given by Colorado state Senator Mike Johnston. Johnston echoed a common neutral opinion in regard to how tenure should not be given, but earned and then re-earned. It encourages educators from day one to be committed to students and like any other profession; they need to earn their keep and pay. Teachers are given tenure after only three years and rest on their laurels afterward if they choose to.
As Johnston brought up,
“Tenure often protects the low performers. When the law takes effect, we will know no one that has it didn’t earn it or didn’t work to keep it.”
He also highlighted a Colorado law that brings teachers before evaluations and poor evaluations cause teachers to lose tenure.
The committee heard from officials at the university level as well as the city level as a whole from various levels of education.
Most agreed that the current setup only rewards the bad teachers while the good ones are receiving the same benefits as the bad ones. Hence, tenure is not protecting good teachers, but the bad ones; who are the ones who negatively affect the state’s education and its students.
It is also interesting that at the same time as elected officials like Christie and Ruiz are coming to the table with likewise ideas; five former state education commissioners met to discuss public education in the state.
The five; Bret Schundler, Lucille Davy, William Librera, Vito Gagliardi, and David Hespe; all centered in on the up and down year when it comes to education in the state. The five spoke at a forum attended by a couple hundred educators in the state. On the schedule was that same topic of teacher tenure; among other things. The former commissioners echoed some themes laid out by Ruiz and those who spoke to the Senate Education Committee. Those themes were teacher evaluations and a constantly moving teacher tenure review schedule.
The five spoke of the tension between Christie and teachers unions like NJEA and how the state has struggled with funds. Funds mismanaged and funds lost in the case of RTTT. They also spoke further to the point that education in the state is part of a political battle that more often than not negatively affects the educational system as a whole as both sides lack a willingness to compromise on key stances they have. For them, education should not become a messy political matter; which teacher tenure certainly can be categorized as.
Hence, with Christie and Democrats like Ruiz and even five former education commissioners weighing in; the mood is right to press NJEA and teachers unions to analyze various components of the education system. Since NJEA has already put teacher tenure on the table, Democrats and Republicans should craft legislation that presses the group to give teacher tenure and teacher evaluations a facelift. Ensuring that poor teachers are no longer rewarded will move the state’s education system in the right direction. Saving “guaranteed money” there will allow the state to reward the good teachers and thus good schools with resources that can aid students with a better education. That ultimately would be a good piece of education reform as the state moves forward in 2011.