Christie Gets Tougher With Charter School Teachers

John Mooney | January 23, 2013 | Education
According to the administration, making it more difficult for charter teachers to earn tenure gives the schools themselves "more flexibility"

Soon after proposing that certification rules for new charter school teachers should be eased, the Christie administration is moving to toughen what it takes those teachers to get and keep tenure.

In a proposal posted on the New Jersey Register this month, the administration has suggested that new teachers at charter schools would receive tenure protections after five years — a year more than the current four years for district teachers.

In addition, they would be subject to a different due process procedure in case of tenure charges, one without the arbitration process newly put in place for district teachers. Instead, the state commissioner would continue to have final say on appeals, short of the courts.

The proposal also specifies that teachers in a charter could lose tenure protections if the school failed to meet certain performance standards and was in peril of closing.

The administration said the new rules seek to provide a mix of flexibility for charter schools and protections for their teachers. Most of the rules would apply only to teachers hired after June 30, 2013.

“We believe the streamlined tenure regulations for charter school teachers strike a balance between providing flexibility for charter school leaders to make decisions about their staffing needs, while simultaneously providing job security for effective educators,” said Barbara Morgan, the state Department of Education’s chief spokeswoman.

The distinctions are allowed under the state’s charter school law, which permits a “streamlined tenure” system for New Jersey’s 80-plus alternative schools. This puts charter schools outside of the provisions of the landmark tenure law enacted last summer.

Gov. Chris Christie has long sought to change tenure requirements at charter schools, first proposing a law three years ago that called for the elimination of tenure altogether.

He hasn’t pushed that idea much since then, but the administration did move in the fall to ease the certification rules for charter schools to allow teachers to be hired more freely from outside careers and then trained on the job. That proposal is now pending before the State Board of Education.

The latest proposal has so far received little public comment, which may not be surprising, given that it was only filed in December and posted on January 7. Districts and charter schools were notified by the Department of Education about the proposal yesterday, and it is open for formal comment for 60 days.

Once the comment period is over and the input considered, the proposal can become formal code in March. It does not need further approval by the State Board of Education.

The New Jersey Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union with locals in nearly a dozen charter schools, voiced some concerns yesterday about the proposal and what it called separate rules for teachers in charter schools.

“This makes them [charter school teachers] second-class citizens, providing them with fewer rights and protections,” said Steve Baker, a NJEA spokesman.

Baker also chided the unilateral move by the administration after the more collaborative process over the past two years in rewriting the state’s main tenure law, leading to its unanimous passage by the Legislature last summer.

It is that law — negotiated with the teacher unions and many others — that tightened some tenure rules for district schools, requiring teachers to serve four years before receiving tenure, instead of the previous three, and putting in place the arbitration process for settling tenure charges.

“We just finished a long and careful review of tenure in New Jersey, and we came to a consensus before the law was passed,” he said. “This [latest proposal] is antithetical to that collaborative process.”

In the six-page proposal, the administration maintained that the new measures sought to strike a balance that would most benefit students.

Specifically, the provision allowing the commissioner to terminate tenure protections for teachers in the case the charter school is put on probation could help avoid closing the school altogether.

“The stipulation that streamlined tenure be withdrawn as a condition of a charter school’s probation is important to the ability of the Department to implement probationary terms designed to forestall closure of a school due to nonrenewal or revocation of a charter,” the proposal reads.