Gov. Christie is sending a package of seven bills to the Legislature this afternoon that would fundamentally change the educational system in the state of New Jersey, altering the way teachers are hired, fired and paid. If approved, the laws would:
- Institute an educator evaluation system by the 2012-13 school year that would rate teachers based on four tiers, from "highly effective" to "ineffective." Half of the evaluation would be based on improvement in student performance. The other half would be at the discretion of the district, and could include measures like classroom and peer evaluation. Principals would also be evaluated.
- Teachers would need three consecutive years of "highly effective" or "effective" evaluations before being awarded tenure. After that, if a teacher has one year of the lower two ratings - "partially ineffective" or "ineffective," he or she will lose tenure, easing the way toward firing. That teacher can win tenure back with three positive evaluations. "The very simple message to the people of New Jersey is that teachers in New Jersey should be held to the same standards of accountability as everybody else is at their job," Christie said.
- End "last-in/first-out" system which leads to new, untenured teachers being laid off first when there are budget cuts. "What we want is to have the most effective teachers at the front of every classroom in New Jersey that should be regardless of seniority," he said.
- Both the principal and teacher would have to agree on teacher assignments, thereby avoiding the practice of passing bad teachers - "the lemons," as Christie described them - from one school to the next.
- The pay scale that bases teacher salary on seniority and educational level (those with Master's degrees are paid more, for example) would essentially be trashed. Districts would have discretion to pay teachers based on merit (through the evaluation system), or based on teaching need (there is a shortage of math and science teachers, for example). And a struggling district like Camden could pay teachers more as an incentive to work there.
- Cases in which teachers challenge firings through the tenure process would be decided in 30 days.
- School districts could opt out of the civil service system, which Christie said affords teachers an extra, unnecessary layer of protection on top of tenure.