Teachers Union Looks Askance at New Regulations for Tenure Evaluations

John Mooney | March 6, 2013 | Education
NJEA says law goes beyond what it agreed to, puts too much stress on student test scores

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Even before the new code is introduced, the state’s largest teachers union is pushing back against proposed regulations for implementing the state’s new teacher-tenure law and rekindling some of the old debates that led up to the new law.

The New Jersey Education Association reacted quickly to Monday’s online publication of the proposed regulations to be presented to the state Board of Education today, contending the code goes further than the law they agreed to last summer, including in its use of standardized test scores in evaluating teachers.

“A lot of our worst fears are being realized,” Steve Wollmer, the NJEA’s communications director, said last night.

The law sets new standards for evaluation of teachers, using both observation of classroom practices and measures of their students’ learning and progress. The new system is to be in place next fall, when teachers will start to be rated on a four-tier scale ranging from “ineffective” to “highly effective.”

Teachers will need at four years satisfactory ratings to receive tenure, and could see tenure charges brought against them after two consecutive years of less than effective ratings.

The law took more than six months of sometimes-intense negotiations, but ultimately had the sign-off of the entire Senate and Assembly and the support of such disparate parties as Gov. Chris Christie and the NJEA, the teachers union that he has so often sparred with.

But some of those debates now seem hardly settled with the release new regulations. For instance, the regulations proposed by the Christie administration would allow schools to use student progress on standardized tests for as much as 50 percent of certain teachers’ evaluations.

The law – as the proposed regulations do, as well – reads that test scores will not be a “predominant” factor in the evaluations. State officials stressed this week that the 50 percent is only a maximum and said they would announce more precise “weights” when they present the code today.

Wollmer said that even writing such maximums into the code goes against what the union agreed to: the use of multiple measures of student achievement in judging teachers. And he said the state unilaterally setting those weights each year doesn’t make it much better.

“The overarching concern is that they promised districts they would give them maximum flexibility,” Wollmer said, “and this instead is one of the most intrusive pieces of policy ever in terms of how top-down, state-controlled.”

State officials have said any judgments on the new regulations are premature until they can make a full presentation today. A full public campaign is also planned for the coming months to seek feedback from teachers and other educators. State Department of Education officials would not comment further last night.

Wollmer said he wished that conversation had taken place before the regulations were put forward.

“There’s a lot of talk about collaboration and openness, but in the end it’s as we predicted,” he said. “So let the conversation begin.”