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Sen. Ruiz Says Teacher Tenure Bill About Respecting Profession

7-10-12

New Jersey lawmakers have approved a bill reforming teacher tenure in the state and are waiting for Gov. Chris Christie to sign into law. Chair of the Education Committee Sen. Teresa Ruiz, who was influential in the legislation, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that she believes Christie will sign the bill and the new regulations will better public education for the Garden State.

The bill’s passage was two years in the making. Ruiz said the first time the Senate Education Committee had a conversation about tenure reform there was an eight and a half hour hearing with individuals from throughout the country.

Some have pointed out abuses of the tenure system, with some teachers staying in the classroom beyond what officials might desire. Ruiz said she thinks that’s part of why tenure has become such a hot issue. “I also think that on a national level everyone was talking about education and our public school systems around dinner tables which is a great thing and something we should all be engaging in,” she said.

Ruiz said she got involved in teacher tenure reform legislation because education is what allowed her to become a representative in the Senate. “The difference between my parents and the opportunities that I have had have been strictly education,” she said. “And I recognize that the children in my community and the 40,000 in the city that I feel responsible for and the million plus in the state of New Jersey that the best equalizing factor in this country is access to quality education.”

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Ruiz explained that tenure is just due process that was originally implemented to prevent individuals from being persecuted.

The state’s teachers’ union immediately opposed the proposed legislation, but Ruiz said the first draft changed during the process and the final product approved by lawmakers is different.

Linking student test scores to teacher evaluations has been a topic of controversy, but Ruiz said it’s one of many evaluation factors. “Initially from the very beginning of the first presentation of the bill, we were very clear that we didn’t want one measure to be part of that rubric, that it had to be multiple measures of student growth,” she said.

Ruiz described student growth as improvement in a student’s education. “So if you have children who are reading one grade reading level at the start of a year and that teacher has brought them up a year and a half, that’s extraordinary work,” Ruiz said. “It may not be at the grade level that they’re supposed to be but it’s not a negative impact or consequence from the professional in the classroom.”

One of the major changes to teacher tenure is a longer waiting period for teachers to receive it. Currently, teachers are eligible for tenure after three years and one day. Under the new bill, teachers would be eligible after four years and one day. “The first year is a mentorship year to give both the employer and the employee an opportunity to recognize if it’s a good fit,” Ruiz explained. “Subsequent to that, two out of the three years after that you must have a positive evaluation to get tenure retainment.”

In addition to the initial tenure process, Ruiz said there will be annual evaluations and trigger points for evaluations to ensure the best professionals are in the classroom.

“This bill is about respecting the most important profession that anyone can commit themselves to and that’s teaching in the state and in this country. It’s about identifying where there are deficiencies, providing corrective action plans and support systems so someone can get to the best level that they can,” Ruiz said. “When we have great teachers we have the best opportunities to have great learners.”