NJ Superintendent: Tenure Laws Stifle Teacher Evaluation

The potential for the quality of teacher to improve or damage learning in classrooms means teacher evaluation is a prescient issue in our schools. Value-added data, linking pay to test scores and teacher tenure are all measures that come under debate. But while we are fortunate to have the dedication of many committed and talented teachers, there are some who no longer have a place in our education system, yet cannot be dismissed, writes Janine Walker Caffrey, Superintendent of the Perth Amboy school district, at NJ.com.

New Jersey’s current tenure law means that lifetime employment is practically guaranteed to teachers. And the way in which the 100 year old law is enacted means that the process to remove tenured teachers is virtually impossible, regardless of that teacher’s performance.

“I’m talking about the very few who don’t show up for work or who shouldn’t be around kids. Because of the current tenure process — one that can take as long as three years and cost more than $100,000 in legal fees to remove a teacher — I must engage in a rarely successful process to remove these individuals.”

And this means that, even if they wanted to, many districts do not challenge tenure.

“Even if we make our case thoroughly and successfully, and a judge agrees to let me dismiss a teacher, he or she can still appeal to the commissioner of Education, the state Board of Education, the Superior Court of New Jersey and, potentially, the state Supreme Court.”

Proponents of tenure say that any school or district can remove a teacher by the process that the tenure law affords. But many, like Caffrey, don’t believe it’s quite that simple.

While the current law gives a principal or a school system three years to decide whether a teacher is good before tenure is awarded, how can someone assume that because the teacher works well for the first three years, they will be equally effective 10 years later?

“In a profession as important as teaching, shouldn’t our classroom professionals prove themselves every year?”

Caffrey asks whether tenure is something teachers need to protect them, or whether they should have the same due process rights as other professionals? And is it not more important for a principal and superintendent to be able to have the right to remove a teacher who poses danger to children?

“We owe it to the majority of the hardworking, effective teachers that they be surrounded by respectful educators who behave in a professional manner.”

Caffrey also believes we also owe it to the children to ensure that only the very best educators will be in our classrooms.

This comes after the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents issued a report with 134 recommendations, including eliminating lifetime tenure for teachers, as reported at Education News.

But Ed Fisher at the Morning Sun points out that school systems have been forced to incentivize students into the industry using benefits such as tenure.

“Easy-to- measure proxies such as master’s degrees and seniority provided the road to tenure and lifetime security.”

But as the economy faltered many benefits have been curtailed, trimmed and some cut completely. And as the popularity of tenure continues to diminish, it has had a devastating effect on morale.

Teachers want support, says Fisher.