First of all, I don't ever want to hear the Star-Ledger Editorial Board complain about money the NJEA spends on advertising; not after today's anti-tenure editorial. Granting a very occasional space to the union to run an op-ed in rebuttal is hardly equivalent to many, many pieces the Ledger has written in support of policies to abolish tenure as we know it. The NJEA has every right - in fact, they have a duty - to their members to present the other side of this debate.
(And thanks to Matt Katz of the Philadelphia Inquirer for demonstrating that there is wide-spread support among teachers for the NJEA to continue this information campaign.)
I'll assume this piece was written by Tom Moran, who has made his feelings about tenure quite clear. I won't relive the entire history of my attempts to engage him (if you have nothing better to do this afternoon, here it is); suffice to say I know for a fact that Moran is well-aware of my arguments. For whatever reason, however, he has never seen fit to address them.
But now we're getting down to it: the Ruiz bill is getting closer and closer to an actual, final form. I believe Moran has an obligation - not to me, but to his readers - to answer these substantive criticisms of the bill:
1) Where is the evidence that there are large numbers of tenured "bad" teachers holding back students in New Jersey? The "17 out of 100,000" argument has been disproved here and other places many times, but even if it were true, it's not proof that we have so many "bad" teachers that we must get rid of an anti-cronyism measure that's been in place for decades. Where is the empirical evidence that this is such a huge problem? I've put forward the case that it is not; where is your rebuttal?
2) Tenure is a feature of both high-performing and low-performing schools; doesn't that prove that tenure itself is not a factor in student achievement? This is transparently obvious, yet no one on the anti-tenure side ever seems to want to address the point.
3) The Ruiz bill allows districts to strip tenure without a hearing by an impartial third-party; isn't that exactly the same as simply getting rid of tenure? If a district can take away tenure solely on an administrator's says so - which is exactly what the Ruiz bill does - then that is the same as having no tenure at all.
4) Don't we have plenty of evidence that school districts can easily become politicized, ripe for turning schools into patronage mills? Elizabeth alone is proof enough of that - and the primary reporting has come from Moran's own newspaper.
5) Why should "bad" principals have the power to hire and fire their staffs at will? If a "good" teacher is working for a "bad" principal, and the principal has the power to fire the teacher without appeal to a third-party, how does that possibly help students? Doesn't a principal need a check on his power over his staff - especially in a public service position?
6) For decades, senior teachers have earned more as an incentive to join and remain in the profession; why wouldn't a district fire those more expensive teachers the minute they could to save money? It is completely logical to assume they would, isn't it? How does that make teaching a more attractive profession?
7) Why would we ever consider changing tenure, based on a new evaluation system, when that evaluation system isn't even in place? The bill gives far too much power to the Commissioner of Education, who has sole discretion to approve evaluation systems that haven't even been tested. And the New York City debacle shows that teacher evaluations systems are not to be trusted automatically.
8) If the problem is the length, expense, and difficulty of conducting tenure hearings, why not just cap their time and cost, and make the procedures clear? This is exactly what the NJEA proposes, yet there is a bias in the commentariat against anything the union puts on the table. No wonder teachers are demoralized.
These are simple questions and they demand a response. It's very difficult for any teacher to take the Ruiz bill - or any other anti-tenure policy - seriously until these concerns are addressed.
Tom Moran, you are the Editorial Page Editor for the largest newspaper in the state. You owe it to your readers to answer these questions before you continue to push for a radical restructuring of a taxpayer protection that has been in place for many, many years, and helped foster one of the best school systems in the nation.
I'm begging you, Tom: answer these questions.