A sweeping teacher tenure reform law signed by New Jersey Gov. Christie last year will go into full effect with the start of the school year this coming month. The Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act, or TEACHNJ, is designed to transform teacher evaluation, institute new requirements on how and when teachers are assessed and lay out a system of grades that can grant teachers tenure – or potentially remove them.
Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex), who wrote and shepherded the tenure law, said that TEACHNJ is just "one small step" toward academic success and it remains an unfinished job, according to John Mooney of NJ Spotlight.
"New Jersey should be very proud of what it accomplished," Ruiz said. "But we can't stop there. It is one small step, and there are other things we need to talk about, so many other things that are needed to ensure a child's academic success."
The law requires every district in the state to have in place a teacher evaluation system that will grade educators on a scale from "ineffective" to "highly effective." The TEACHNJ will be effective from next month as the academic year opens.
Meanwhile, the arbitration system set up by the law has resolved nearly 30 cases, with "the latest coming down against a Cumberland County vocational high school teacher accused of shoving a student."
Ruiz was asked by other lawmakers to extend the deadlines for the evaluation system. She has thus far refused to do. According to Ruiz, TEACHNJ is a work in progress, and there will be a great deal to learn in the coming months as districts begin to roll out their evaluation systems. "Legislation is written for the moment," Ruiz said. "We just opened up a 100-year-old law and statute and changed how things were done. But we know there is always room for improvement."
Ruiz said she had no second thoughts about any of the language of the law or its requirements. There have been debates about how certain pieces of the legislation are to be interpreted, but Ruiz has been unwavering.
"I never wanted to get into the weeds of it," she said. "What we use today [in judging teachers] is not necessarily what we will use in five, 10, 15 years, and I always felt it should be a dynamic process. But did we also want protections? Yes, and I think there are protections."
Ruiz also said that she will not be giving up on finding state funds to help districts implement the law, which explicitly calls for state resources. "I will always push for opportunities to find resources for districts," she said, adding that "maybe some help could be provided through a grant program or on a case-by-case basis."
In addition, Ruiz said that additional regulations are expected in the coming year about other important aspects of teacher quality including education and preparation. "We are really early in that," she said. "There are a lot of moving pieces, and we want to make sure we do it properly."