I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who "Won" the NJ Tenure Battle? Part I

So the Ruiz tenure bill flew through the legislature, and is on its way to Chris Christie's desk, where it will no doubt be signed in a ceremony replete with dancing elephants, a brass band, and several confetti canons. And there will be plenty of crowing from all sides about who "won."

Let's try our best to keep score, shall we?

Chris Christie: When all this tenure brouhaha started, Chris Christie was basically throwing any idiotic idea up against the wall and hoping something stuck. For example, back in January of 2011:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wants to change that: He is seeking to end tenure and on Wednesday said he would support switching to a system that gives individual teachers five-year contracts, which districts could renew based on merit. He said he believes that if the worst 5% of teachers were churned, there would be a "quantum effect" on performance.
"I don't know what the justification is for it any longer, I really don't," Mr. Christie said of tenure during a meeting with The Wall Street Journal's editorial board. "At the end of the five-year period we evaluate. If we want to keep you, great. If we don't, we won't, based on merit."
A spokeswoman later said the concept of moving to five-year contracts was "only one idea of many" that was being explored.
Of course it was merely being "explored" - because it was transparently stupid. His people knew he would have to back off of such nonsense, so in April of 2011, they released a series of draft bills that ostensibly contained their best hopes for "reforming" tenure. Keep in mind: these proposals were already a withdrawal from Christie's original positions.

Still, the proposals were quite radical:

  • The removal of tenure without due process; in other words, a district could remove a teacher's tenure status, and the teacher would not be able to appeal to an outside third party.
  • The elimination of salary guides based on seniority.
  • The elimination of the use of seniority in layoff decisions.
  • Merit pay.
  • "Mutual consent," a process that requires an administrator to sign off on a transfer of a teacher into the administrator's school.
None of this survives in the final bill.

B4K: According to its website, B4K supports "differentiated pay for hard–to-teach subjects," and an "end the common layoff policy known as “last in first out” or LIFO, which releases teachers based solely on how long they have taught and not how well." Well, differentiated pay was never in the bill, and gutting seniority was removed. Further:
As with teachers, principals must also be evaluated on their ability to drive student outcomes.  Principals must have the authority to assemble their team of educators, and teacher placement must be by mutual consent of both the principal and the teacher. [emphasis mine]
Again, mutual consent was removed.

NJEA: The teachers union put out a tenure plan in November of 2011. Pretty much everyone agreed with their provision to add a "mentor year" to the existing three years it takes now to earn tenure, so there was little controversy over that.

NJEA's proposal was more notable for what it didn't call for. It didn't agree to end seniority, or end salary guides. It didn't call for merit pay mutual consent. It didn't say a teacher could lose tenure without a hearing before a third party.

All of these were on the table. None survived the final bill.

Does all this mean the NJEA can claim victory? Well, on seniority, mutual consent, merit pay, salary guides, and due process, it's clear that they can.

But there's one area where they cannot claim a clear victory: the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations. Then again, neither can Christie and the reformyists - this is a battle yet to be waged.

More on that tomorrow in Part II.

ADDING: From my link above to John Mooney's report at NJSpotlight:
Meanwhile, even the Assembly bill has gotten some new names at the top, with the original sponsors stepping back and new ones stepping forward.
Now named as prime sponsor is state Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), the education chairman who had opposed any form of renewable tenure a year ago but slowly moved toward compromise in the last few weeks. The original sponsor, state Assemblyman Robert Coutinho (D-Essex) was named as a co-sponsor. [emphasis mine]
The implication here is that Diegnan now supports a bill that allows for a district to refuse to renew a teacher's tenure. That is not correct. The current bill explicitly states a tenured teacher always retains the right to a hearing in front of a third party before he or she can be fired. NJEA is quite clear about this:
The bill guarantees teachers facing dismissal with their right to a hearing, “which is the fair and just thing to do,” he added.  Under an earlier version of the bill, teachers could actually “lose tenure,” which meant they would have lost their right to due process.  That provision was struck from the bill at NJEA’s urging.
It's important to get this stuff right.

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