New Jersey Tenure Reform Bill Passes Senate

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s education reforms are continuing with the unanimous passing of State Senator Teresa Ruiz’ tenure reform bill in the Senate Thursday. It is expected to be signed into law by Christie sometime next week.

The effect will be that teachers who under-perform in the classroom can finally be removed from their posts. Also, evaluation of their performance will be linked to the progress of their students; progress measured in part by test scores.

Ruiz has spent much of the last two years working on the reform, according to NJ.com and the unanimous passing indicates the work that has gone into forging consensus on the issue. Democratic support for the measure goes against their traditional union supporters, but an injection of funds by billionaire David Tepper reportedly encouraged the New Jersey Education Association to relent to the changes.

The current situation is increasingly seen as morally indefensible. Protecting bad teachers when almost 50% of kids fail to graduate high school in failing urban districts is politically impossible.

One big caveat to the deal: To get it done, reformers had to abandon the fight against seniority rules. The NJEA insisted on that and sadly carried the day. So in cities such as Newark, which face hundreds of layoffs in the next few years, young teachers will soon be fired en masse, including even those who are gifted and hardworking.

So while this is an important battle for Christie and other reformer to win the war is far from over. Seniority is the line in the sand for unions and their Democratic supporters. Senate President Stephen Sweeney feared that if seniority rules were abolished districts would take advantage of the savings yielded by firing experienced teachers and replacing them with new recruits to ease budgetary pressure during an on-going recession.

In the meantime there are measures which reformers can press for to chip away at seniority until the political will and means are gathered to abolish it entirely:

If the law really can’t be changed, perhaps the damage can be contained. Local chapters of the NJEA should be allowed to give up seniority rights during negotiations, for example, a concession now banned by law. Superintendents in failing districts could be allowed to select a certain number of “all-star” teachers who are shielded from layoffs, even without seniority.