Legislators in New Jersey recently dealt a heavy blow to the oldest teacher tenure law in the nation.
State Senator Teresa Ruiz (D–Essex) spent two years drafting a bill to reform the 103-year-old teacher tenure law and tie teacher job security to student performance. And now her bill is becoming law. The bill, signed into law by Governor Chris Christie (R) earlier this week, unanimously passed the state legislature.
The bill requires all teachers to undergo yearly evaluations based primarily on student performance, and any teacher who receives two consecutive negative evaluations can lose tenure. Lawmakers hope that these evaluations and consequences will not only lead underperforming teachers to seek other career options but also encourage talented, tenured teachers to maintain strong teaching performance.
The law also changes the process for gaining tenure. Under the current system, effective and ineffective teachers alike receive tenure after only three years of employment. The new law extends the amount of time teachers must teach before being awarded tenure, and teachers must achieve two positive evaluations in their first three years in the classroom.
These tenure reforms are a positive step forward for New Jersey’s education system, but they should be built upon in the coming months and years. The law ultimately gained the support of the New Jersey Education Association, but the union’s approval came on the condition that legislators let stand the state’s teacher seniority rule. Under this “last in, first out” policy, schools facing layoffs are required to make personnel cuts based on a teacher’s years on the job, not his or her effectiveness in the classroom. Christie stated upon signing the bill:
After more than 100 years in existence, this administration, legislature and key reformers have done together what many considered to be impossible.… We are taking a huge leap forward in providing a quality education and real opportunity to every student in New Jersey. But our work to develop laws that put students first is not done. Now is the time to build on this record of cooperation and results to put in place further reforms focused on our students by ending the flawed practice of Last In, First Out and supporting both differentiated pay and banning forced placements of teachers.
With tenure in New Jersey no longer a guaranteed shield for underperforming teachers, administrators will be better able to improve the quality of instruction within their schools. By requiring accountability for results from teachers, New Jersey lawmakers have placed the interests of students first.
Teresa Shumay is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.