Op-Ed: Teachers Support Main TEACHNJ Reforms

Mike Lilley | April 9, 2012 | Opinion
Survey finds teachers agree on major issues in education

The Gates Foundation and Scholastic recently released “Primary Sources: 2012 – America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession,” which surveyed 10,000 teachers across the country on their honest, professional opinions about the major issues in American public education. The results are revealing and give strong support for the main reform policies behind “The Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of NJ Act,” or TEACHNJ, sponsored by Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-29) as S-1455, and Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-29) as A-2389.

According to the survey, teachers recognize that they have an essential role in how much children learn, with 99 percent saying that “effective and engaged” teachers are a very important factor in student achievement. But they also believe that effective teachers alone are not enough: other important factors include family involvement, high expectations for all students, effective and engaged school leaders and adequate resources and professional development.

When it comes to measuring student achievement, teachers call for multiple, more frequent measures of teaching and learning. Classroom performance — as measured by class tests, participation, and assignments — is viewed as the best measure by far.

Most teachers see some value in using standardized tests as one measure. About two-thirds say that they ensure that every student in a state is assessed the same way and in alignment with state standards. But only 26 percent see standardized tests as an accurate reflection of overall student achievement.

Importantly, teachers overwhelmingly agree that student-learning growth over the course of an academic year is the most important metric in measuring their performance. Teacher content knowledge, professional educator observation and review, and student/parent surveys should also be part of teacher evaluations. The fact is that teachers want to be observed, evaluated and provided with feedback more than they currently are. Overall, 85 percent of teachers see professional development as having a strong impact on their ability to improve student learning.

As for tenure: 89 percent of teachers agree that tenure should reflect evaluations of teacher effectiveness, 92 percent say tenure should not protect ineffective teachers, and 80 percent say that tenure should be periodically re-evaluated. Only 24 percent say tenure should be based solely on seniority.

Likewise, only 14 percent of teachers believe that seniority should be the most important factor when considering workforce reductions, 74 percent believe it should be considered along with other measures and 12 percent believe it should the least important factor.

TEACHNJ incorporates all of these teacher-supported reforms.

For the first time in NJ, student achievement will be a significant factor in measuring teacher performance — in accord with 85 percent of the teachers in the survey. Likewise, student achievement is to be assessed by multiple measures, including growth in standardized test results as well as other assessments.

Also in accord with teachers’ expressed views, teacher evaluations will include multiple measures: student achievement growth, observations of teacher practice and portfolios of classroom work, among other factors. Feedback will be systematically linked into the evaluation process and professional development provided based on evaluation results.

Finally, tenure will be based on teacher performance and not simply years served as under the current system. Ineffective teachers can lose tenure after two years of poor performance without improvement. Workforce reductions will be based on teacher performance first and only then seniority, unlike our current system where seniority is the only consideration. From this survey, we know teachers strongly support these policies.

The bottom line is that TEACHNJ embodies common sense reforms that teachers support when they are asked for their honest, professional opinions. After all, teachers suffer along with the kids when other teachers fail to do their jobs effectively. TEACHNJ is a bill that NJ teachers can and should support.