By Desirée Taylor
Gov. Chris Christie signed a bill into law that will change requirements for attaining and keeping tenure for New Jersey’s grade school teachers. It will now take new teachers four years instead of three to achieve tenure. First year teachers will be paired with an experienced educator to give them support during a mentorship program. Evaluations will be conducted to determine effectiveness. Teachers who receive poor marks could lose tenure and be fired. Removing ineffective teachers will be less expensive and time consuming partly because contested cases will no longer be referred to Administrative Law Judges.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle praised the law which received bi-partisan support. “This will reward effective teachers … and make sure they get tenure and keep it,” said the Republican governor. “This isn’t an attack on teachers,” said Democratic Senate President Stephen Sweeney. “We need to invest in teachers because they’re the ones who create senate presidents, doctors, and lawyers.”
High marks were given to bill sponsor Democratic State Senator M. Teresa Ruiz who took on an issue her colleagues described as the third rail in politics. “By signing this bill today, we’re accomplishing what after 100 years hadn’t been visited,” said Ruiz, the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
But for all the praise, supporters of tenure reform acknowledge there’s more work to be done. That’s because the law doesn’t eliminate seniority protections which stipulate that the last teacher hired be the first one let go if there are layoffs. Merit pay, another reform the governor has pushed for since he got into office, also isn’t addressed in this law. But many stakeholders, including the New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, agree the law represents a good compromise. Even though NJEA president, Barbara Keshishian doesn’t believe the new tenure rules won’t lead to sweeping changes in the classroom she said, “We’re happy to have been a part of the process that created this law. It should go a long way to help us reach the goal of providing every child with the best teacher.”