Among New Jersey’s first legal tests of its new tenure law, state arbitrators continue to give a thumbs-down to Newark superintendent Cami Anderson’s efforts to rid the district of those she sees as ineffective teachers.
The reason for this rejection, and surely a lesson for other districts to come: The arbitrators say her administration did not follow the proper procedures in trying to oust the teachers.
With the most recent of 10 rulings so far coming in this week, the arbitrators have rejected every tenure charge filed against Newark teachers for what is technically called “inefficiency” in their performance last year and the year before.
In each case, the teachers were reinstated, virtually all with back pay.
Another six cases are pending, according to the district, but their odds are long given that not one case filed to arbitrators has been successful to date. (The district did succeed in two cases that went as far as the state commissioner, when teachers did not file responses.)
For the bulk of the cases to date, the state-appointed arbitrators continue to find that Anderson sought to use evaluations against the teachers that took place before the new tenure law was enacted.
The law, signed in 2012, allows districts to file tenure charges against teachers found “ineffective” or “partially effective” for two years in a row. But one after the other, the arbitrators said that clock started with the regulations being finalized in 2013, and Anderson tried to include evaluations taking place in the 2012-2013 school year.
The arbitrators cited the string of decisions before them that have rested on the same argument.
“There is no question the issues before me have already been addressed, and I might add quite extensively,” arbitrator Gerard Restaino said in the most recent decision.
The district is not giving up on the legal strategy, saying it stands by its reading of the law permitting prior evaluations, since the district was among the state’s pilots testing new evaluations. State Education Commissioner David Hespe has also maintained that Anderson, who was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie, is within her rights on the cases.
Vanessa Rodriguez , the district’s chief talent officer in charge of teacher evaluation, said possible appeals are being discussed, but she would not give any further details. She did indicate that some of the decided cases were more ambivalent regarding the timing issue, and said the district would continue to pursue the argument in the remaining cases.
“This is not an open and shut case that 2012-13 didn’t count [under the law],” she said.
But it has clearly not been a good start for Anderson’s efforts, with even some of the latest decisions questioning whether Anderson had completed sufficient evaluations as well, regardless of the dates.
For example, one recent case turned on the question as to whether the state had completed enough evaluations of teachers who had been moved to modified roles in a district’s excess pool.
Another raised the question as to whether the district had created the required supports for teachers with one year of subpar performance or offered them a corrective plan, as required under the law.
“The District … admits that there was never a complete Corrective Action Plan (CAP) established for [the teacher] during the 2013-14 school year, but placed the responsibility and blame for the lack of such a plan upon [the teacher],” said arbitrator Timothy Brown in the decision reinstating a dance teacher brought up on charges.
District officials contended that each case met both the spirit and the letter of the law. Nevertheless, Rodriguez said the scorecard on the tenure decisions misses the fact that another 40 teachers who were likely to face tenure charges resigned before those charges were certified.
“There are 40 teachers who decided to retire before going through the process,” Rodriguez said.
And she said that the higher standards have led to more teachers deemed “effective” and “highly effective” to stay in the district. Newark retained more than 90 percent of those teachers last year, officials said.
Overall, 61 of 98 teachers labeled “ineffective” last year remained in the district, and 244 of 333 rated “partially effective” were retained, or 62 and 73 percent, respectively. But of the majority rated satisfactorily, 1,947 of 2,083 deemed "effective" were retained, and 276 of 290 teachers deemed "highly effective" stayed on, retention rates of 93 and 95 percent, respectively.
Editor’s note: Corrections have been to this story since its initial publication.