Teacher Assessment Will Be Focus of NJEA’s New Chief

The state’s largest teachers union will have a new executive director. Edward Richardson succeeds Vincent Giordano as the head of the NJEA. Richardson is no newcomer to the organization. He has been with the NJEA for almost 20 years now. Richardson tells NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the issue of teacher assessment and evaluation will be front and center of the organization’s agenda as he begins his term and beyond.

He just received word, he says, that may affect the roll-out of the new teacher evaluation system.

“We just had news today from the U.S. Department of Education indicating that states like New Jersey that have waivers under the No Child Left Behind Act are free to basically take a year off from the use of standardized test scores and teacher evaluations and we are strongly recommending that the state do that,” said Richardson.

When the state released its proposed regulations for implementing the state’s new teacher tenure law, the NJEA voiced concerns that they placed too much emphasis on standardized tests.

“There are so many factors that creep into student assessment, factors that frankly cannot be accounted for in teacher evaluation and virtually all of the research says that is an inappropriate use of student assessment,” argued Richardson.

So what what kind of an evaluation model does Richardson favor? He says one that focuses “more on classroom practice, authentic assessment and a broader look, frankly, at what a teacher is doing in the course of a 7-hour, 8-hour day and the 180-day year.”

His predecessor’s rocky relationship with Gov. Christie has been well publicized.

“I think Vince had to address the relationship in its infancy so to speak,” said Richardson. “He has already been able to establish a productive working relationship with Commissioner Cerf. We have staff who work fairly regularly with the staff at the Department of Education. So there have been some times now where we’ve been able to break through some of the prior disagreements.”

In addition to teacher assessment, the other hot topic in education has been the regulation of charter schools. Recently, Commissioner Cerf denied approval of a Newark-based virtual charter school.

When it comes to charter schools, Richardson points out the NJEA actually supported the charter law back when it was enacted.

“It was held forth as a … groundbreaking sort of, authentic-based models that other schools might replicate,” he recalled.

He says the reality, for the most part, has failed to live up to that promise. Still, he says charters are here to stay.

“There’s a place for charters but, by the same token, I think we need to really be careful in terms of just how broadly the charter movement has rolled out.”