Two Tenure Law Sponsors Now Seek Delay in Tougher Teacher Evaluations

John Mooney | June 7, 2013 | Education
Resolution calls for one-year wait before full implementation of new law’s requirements

Concerns about the upcoming launch of a new teacher evaluation system in New Jersey have caught the attention of some high-ranking legislators, with two Assembly leaders offering up a resolution to delay some key pieces of the new requirements.

State Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex) and Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr. (D-Middlesex), both Assembly sponsors of the new tenure law that brought the new rules, are asking the state to extend the current pilot program and postpone full implementation.

School districts would still be required to implement the new evaluations — including some of its most controversial parts, which factor in student test scores — but teachers’ jobs would not yet be on the line for another year.

“I think we do need to pause and take a breath,” Jasey said yesterday in a forum hosted by the New Jersey School Boards Association and the state PTA.

“It’s important to acknowledge the importance of teacher evaluation, but if really serious about making these changes, and the goal is really about improving education and making sure there is an excellent and effective teacher in every classroom, then we need to take the time to do it right,” she said.

“As a prime sponsor of that legislation, I want to see this work,” Jasey said. “I don’t want to see it go up in flames because we didn’t give it proper vetting.”

Even if approved by the Assembly, the nonbinding resolution’s impact would be limited, carrying no weight beyond the bully pulpit. The Christie administration has shown no signs of slowing down the process.

And, at the moment, there is no similar resolution in the Senate, where the chief architect of the new teacher-tenure law — including the new evaluation rules — was not showing much support herself.

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex) actually had such a one-year delay in her original tenure bill, but it was subsequently negotiated out of the legislation in a give-and-take with various stakeholders.

Yesterday, Ruiz said she was aware of the concerns about the capacity of districts to train their staffs and have the required pieces in place, but she said to pause now would be counter-productive.

“It has been over a year time frame and with some even longer,” Ruiz said in an interview. ”We have to have dates in place to roll this out. I don’t think any of this prohibits the department and the state board from revisiting, but I think the most important thing is to roll this out, and then come back and look and see if it is working.

Still, Ruiz said she would still push for the state to provide greater resources, including funding, to help districts prepare for the new system. Gov. Christie’s proposed state budget for fiscal 2014 does not include any new funds to help implement the law.

“There is a lot for districts to do to gear up,” Ruiz said. “Change is extraordinary, and until you know what it actually means, everybody feels uncomfortable.

“I think it is all of our responsibility to insure that when this process is moving forward, the most important things we have in place are the resources necessary to implement this bill in a responsible way,” she said. “That’s where the conversation should be.”

State Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Essex), another key legislator behind the new tenure law and a participant in its final negotiations, said he supports resolution but thinks the various players involved last year in the tenure legislation should get together to try to address the new worries.

“That whole reform passed unanimously and had the support of every major educator group in the state, but we need to keep that coalition together,” he said. “Otherwise, what could be a very promising opportunity could end up stuck in the mud.”