By New Jersey Education Association
NJEA President Barbara Keshishian applauded the Assembly’s passage of tenure reform legislation Monday that closely resembles the proposal laid out by the union last fall.The 79-0 vote, following on the heels of last week’s 40-0 vote in the Senate, was the culmination of months of meetings and discussions involving legislators and education stakeholders from across the state.
“We are glad to have worked closely with Sen. Ruiz, Assemblyman Diegnan, the New Jersey Department of Education and many other legislators and education groups to craft a comprehensive tenure reform bill that addresses the concerns of tenure critics while maintaining fairness for teachers and protecting public schools,” said Keshishian.
“It’s not a perfect bill,” she continued. “To make it succeed, we need to work just as closely and cooperatively to ensure that New Jersey’s teacher evaluation system is valid, reliable and fair. But the bill passed by the Legislature today is the right direction for New Jersey right now, and we call on Gov. Christie to sign this important legislation immediately.”
In her testimony last week before the Senate Budget Committee, Keshishian noted that the bill adopts several proposals NJEA made last year. It lengthens the time to acquire tenure from three years to four years, and uses that extra time to provide better mentoring and evaluation to new teachers. “Before granting tenure to anyone, a district must ensure that person is functioning at a high level,” noted Keshishian.
Keshishian also pointed out that the final bill maintains critically important due process protections that shield our schools from political interference. “No tenured teacher should be fired on a whim, as the result of a personality conflict with an administrator, or for political or other inappropriate reasons,” Keshishian said. “This bill ensures that before any tenured teacher is fired, he or she has the right to a hearing before a highly qualified and neutral third party arbitrator.”
NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano also praised the work done by many parties to ensure that the final tenure bill lived up to NJEA’s high standards for meaningful tenure reform. “Almost two years ago, NJEA shared its vision of tenure reform with legislators and the public,” said Giordano. “In the past, in too many instances, it took too long and cost too much to dismiss a teacher charged with inefficiency.”
“A significant improvement in this legislation is its elimination of judges and courts from the appeal process,” Giordano said. “Before anyone else was talking about it, NJEA proposed putting all dismissal appeals before highly qualified arbitrators.
“We learned from the experience of Massachusetts – which went to arbitration almost 20 years ago – that it was a far more expeditious and far less costly route to take,” Giordano said.
While NJEA agreed with the need to reform the existing tenure law, as Keshishian noted in a Star-Ledger op-ed last November, it also understood the importance of keeping fairness and due process in place, to protect both teachers and students from the politicization of the teaching profession.
“The legislation approved today gives districts a clear and reasonable way to remove ineffective teachers,” said Keshishian. “It also protects teachers and taxpayers from the pernicious influence of politics and patronage in the classroom – the very reason that New Jersey instituted tenure a century ago.”
Following today’s vote, Keshishian reflected on the long process involved in getting to this point. “This bipartisan solution shows that when policymakers listen to educators, we can accomplish important things together.”