School Board Notes • August 14, 2012 • Vol. XXXVI No. 4

The New Tenure Law: What Board Members Need to Know

In the first substantial reform of teacher tenure laws in over a century, Gov. Chris Christie on Aug. 6 signed into law the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey, or TEACHNJ Act.

For more than 35 years, NJSBA has sought the elimination of the current lifetime tenure system. Although the new law does not eliminate tenure, NJSBA supports aspects of the TEACHNJ Act that reduce the time and cost of tenure hearings. It also views positively the bill's emphasis on teacher evaluation and the additional year required before a school employee can initially earn tenure.

Key components of new law include:

Teacher Evaluations The evaluation structure for teachers will, at a minimum, range from "ineffective" to "partially effective," "effective" and "highly effective."

Tenure Charges A superintendent must file tenure charges of inefficiency against a teacher after two unsatisfactory annual evaluations, but the superintendent "upon a written finding of exceptional circumstances may defer the filing of tenure charges until after the next annual summative evaluation," according to the law. If that exception is exercised and the teacher receives a third consecutive unsatisfactory evaluation, the superintendent must file charges of inefficiency.

Obtaining Tenure Newly hired teachers will have a year added to the tenure acquisition process. The first year will require mentoring with an established teacher. New teachers must receive a rating of "effective" in at least two of the next three years to be eligible for tenure.

Currently employed non-tenured teachers are 'grandfathered' in terms of the amount of time required to earn tenure. Teachers who have not yet attained tenure, but were hired prior to the enactment of the TEACHNJ Act, will earn tenure automatically upon three years and one day in a position.

School Improvement Panels These panels, headed by a school principal (or a designee who must be a certificated district employee), will make tenure determinations, including oversight of mentoring, identifying professional development, and conducting teacher evaluations. The panels will also include an assistant or vice principal, and a teacher.

Teacher Evaluation Models Each district's teacher evaluation model must be approved by the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE).

Arbitration All tenure charges will now be decided by an arbitrator, not the Commissioner of Education, randomly selected from a panel of 25 arbitrators. Of the 25 arbitrators, eight arbitrators will be designated by the New Jersey Education Association, three arbitrators will be designated by the American Federation of Teachers, nine arbitrators will be designated by the New Jersey School Boards Association, and five arbitrators will be designated by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.

Professional Development A board of education, principal, or superintendent shall provide its teaching staff members with ongoing professional development that supports student achievement, and with an individual professional development plan. To the greatest extent feasible, professional development opportunities will be developed in consultation with the school improvement panels. 

Individual Professional Development Plans These plans are written statements of goals developed by a teaching staff member serving in a supervisory capacity, in collaboration with a teaching staff member, that align with professional standards for teachers set forth in administrative code (NJAC 6A:9-3.3) and in the New Jersey Professional Development Standards. They are derived from the annual evaluation process; identify professional goals that address specific individual, district or school needs; and base professional development activities in objectives related to improving teaching and student achievement. The individual professional development plan will include timelines for implementation, responsibilities of the employee and the school district for implementing the plan, and specific support and periodic feedback that the district must provide.

Corrective Action Plan If a teacher receives an evaluation with a rating of ineffective, a corrective action plan must be developed by the teacher and a teaching staff member serving in a supervisory capacity to address the identified deficiencies.

Evaluation Rubric A school district must annually submit to the Commissioner of Education, for review and approval, the evaluation rubrics that the district will use to assess the effectiveness of its teachers, principals, assistant principals, vice-principals and all other teaching staff members. The board needs to ensure that an approved rubric meets the minimum standards established by the State Board of Education. In the case in which the district fails to submit a rubric for review and approval, the NJDOE model rubric shall be used by the district. Each local board is expected to adopt an evaluation rubric by Dec. 31, 2012, and Jan. 31, 2013 is the deadline for the local board to implement a pilot program to test the rubric. The district must implement the evaluation rubric in the 2013-2014 school year.

State Funding Section 20 of the new law stipulates that "the Department of Education shall provide the funds necessary to effectuate the provisions of this act."

NJSBA's Position NJSBA expressed disappointment that the bill did not eliminate "last in, first out." That practice requires districts to use seniority, rather than performance, as the criterion in determining which teachers are retained during a staff reduction. This issue was addressed in S-807, the School Children First Act (Kyrillos), but has yet to be taken up by the Legislature. Seniority was addressed for newly hired teachers in the TEACHNJ Act, but the provision was removed during the review by the full Senate and Assembly.

Overall, however, NJSBA supports the governor's action in signing the TEACHNJ Act.

"The new law creates an essential link between the tenure process and teacher performance. It also calls for an objective evaluation system to help ensure consistency," said Bilik. "We commend the bi-partisan effort, and hope to see further reforms in areas such as seniority, which would further strengthen school district leaders' ability to ensure that the most effective teachers are in the classroom."

The TEACHNJ Act includes two amendments sought by NJSBA. One requires the state, and not local school districts, to pay for all costs associated with the legislation, including cost of arbitrating tenure cases. The second amendment states that, "A school district's evaluation rubric approved by the commissioner … shall not be subject to collective negotiations."

NJSBA will provide members with additional analysis and information on the TEACHNJ Act online and at upcoming programs.