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N.J. Passes Compromise Bill on Tenure Reform

I wasn't planning to ever write the terms "good education policy" and "Chris Christie" in the same sentence, but it appears that state Sen. Teresa Ruiz has pulled off something of a miracle: a substantive education reform bill that satisfies both the teachers' union and New Jersey's hard-charging governor.

Her bill, signed into law by Gov. Christie on Monday, falls short of ending LIFO but accomplishes quite a bit, namely:

  • Bumping the tenure timeline from 3 years to 4 years
  • Requiring positive evaluations (3 or 4 on a 4-level scale) at least two of the final three years before being granted tenure
  • Enabling districts to terminate teachers who receive negative evaluations two years in a row
  • Handling termination appeals through arbitration rather than administrative law judges
  • Requiring classroom observations as part of the annual evaluation process

There is also a provision to include student test scores in evaluations, in a manner to be determined at the local level, but they may not constitute the majority of evaluations.

For an excellent analysis of the new law, take a look at this glowing endorsement from the NJ Principals and Supervisors Association, which begins by acknowledging the complexity of the issues and the challenges of collaboration:

We applaud the commitment and leadership of Senator Teresa Ruiz and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan in addressing the complex issues of teacher and principal evaluation and tenure reform. NJPSA knows first-hand that this legislation incorporates the input of a myriad of groups, including ours, over these many months. The legislation reflects intense discussions, cooperation, and our collective commitment to a quality product that will strengthen educational reform policy for New Jersey. We share the sponsors collective goals of balancing strong educational policy and fair employment practice in New Jersey schools. link

The full text of the bill is here (PDF) if you're inclined to dig further. For now, I'll simply state that these are all good reforms, and whatever conflict has characterized Christie's term in office has resulted in a productive new law. He's still not going to get a birthday card from me, but Sen. Ruiz has my admiration for bringing disparate factions together to pull off a fairly well-balanced series of reforms.

I'd like to see LIFO go the way of the dodo as well, but moving to a four-level evaluation system is great progress, and requiring annual observations is a great move as well.

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