By Christian D'Andrea
MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst
The wave of educational reform wasn't just felt in Wisconsin this year. New Jersey has followed suit, enacting teacher evaluation policies that will raise the standard of educator quality throughout the Garden State. More importantly, they pressed these laws into effect with bipartisan support and the backing of their local teachers' union.
New Jersey updated their teacher evaluation program on Monday, reforming a program that had been the oldest in the United States. New Jersey's tenure laws had been in place since 1909 and had drawn criticism in recent years for making the process to fire poor teachers frustratingly complex and drawn out. These new reforms will streamline that process and help the state's public schools produce a better product to put in their classrooms.
Teachers will now be granted tenure after four years instead of the customary three. More importantly, all teachers will be subject to more careful review that will combine student results and administrator evaluations. If any teacher receives two straight years of "ineffective" ratings, they will be at risk of losing their tenure - and their positions.
Additionally, disputed cases that involve teachers being fired will now be heard by special arbitrators rather than in the New Jersey court system. That change will not only reduce the time it takes to remove a bad teacher from the classroom, but also save the state millions of dollars.
This two-headed approach is similar to the educator evaluation system that Wisconsin passed last year. Like Wisconsin, New Jersey will rely on a number of inputs to better understand a teacher's impact in the classroom. Their rating system will rely on student growth and achievement along with in-class evaluations from principals and other administrators. While that doesn't paint a complete picture of what a educator provides to his or her students, it is enough to create a strong baseline for effectiveness.
New Jersey's reforms are making headlines for more than just their evolving system of teacher grading. Governor Chris Christie was able to sign the reform into legislation behind a strong bipartisan effort that included big time buy-in from both local and national teachers' unions. Both the New Jersey Education Association and the American Federation for Teachers were active participants in the drafting of this legislation.
As a result, members of both parties of New Jersey's Legislature sponsored the bill. It received unanimous support from legislators.
This reform is another step forward in what has become an overarching wave of change in public school classrooms. New Jersey's tenure changes will not only ensure that bad teachers have less access to the classroom, but it will also save millions of dollars and several bureaucratic headaches. Most importantly, it will work to serve students by keeping high performing teachers in front of them while weeding out the unprepared, burnt out, or ineffective ones.
While this reform may have happened in New Jersey, it came on the heels of Wisconsin's success. There's still work to be done, but the Garden State's success and willingness to adopt change shows that Wisconsin can once again be an example when it comes to education reform in the United States.