Teacher tenure reform has been among the more delicate and misunderstood issues roiling New Jersey under Gov. Chris Christie.
Reduced to its most basic elements, the simple goal is to allow truly bad teachers to be fired, rather than allowing them to enjoy virtual lifetime security after just three years on the job. Nearly everyone can agree on the wisdom of that — even the teachers union. Or at least the union recognizes that public support for change is too overwhelming to combat.
So it was encouraging, although not entirely surprising, that a compromise reform bill offered by state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex, last week received the backing of some stakeholders on all sides of the issue, including — perhaps most importantly — the New Jersey Education Association itself. [emphasis mine]It must be a rule they teach you in Editorial Page Writing School: anytime you can impugn a union's motives - no matter how subtlety - make sure you take it.
Because we all know that only point of teachers unions is to protect the hordes of "bad" teachers storming through our schools, messing up learning for kids whose lives are otherwise just perfect. Because the union makes tons of money protecting bad teachers! Everyone knows that! Even though the same people who complain about this complain that there are so few tenure cases brought. Which means... well, OK, maybe that's not how they make their money... but there must be some scheme... just give me a sec to figure it out...
Give these folks credit where it's due, however:
The other specter that concerns teachers is the evaluation process itself. Under current regulations, teachers receive tenure after three years regardless of performance or student achievement. The reform bill calls for denial of tenure if teachers fall below a certain effectiveness threshold, and evaluations are based in part on student growth, although the measurements for that growth remain vague.
Adding a degree of accountability to the process is long overdue. But once districts have more meaningful power in their hands to influence tenure decisions, those evaluations can be used as a weapon against teachers. We’d all like to think school officials across all the districts in the state have only the good of each student and classroom in mind as they conduct honest and open-minded reviews of their teachers. But that would be woefully naive. There are bad apples out there who will have their own reasons to oust teachers that have nothing to do with performance.Gosh, you think?
What, for instance, would prevent those doing the evaluations from manipulating them to try to assure that teachers are unfairly denied tenure through the effectiveness ratings? Teachers do deserve continued protection from such incompetence.
The last thing New Jersey needs is to have its entire education system shaped by arrogant ivory-tower politicians and their sycophants pontificating on what teachers should be able to accomplish in the classroom, with no understanding of the many underlying factors involved.That is exactly right, and that is the exact problem with where all this is heading. New Jersey is implementing a teacher evaluation system that has left teachers out of its creation.
But I don't see how we change that by constantly questioning the motivations of the one organization that represents teachers.