Breaking Down The TEACHNJ Act

You have to read TEACHNJ for yourself.  The news will report this, then this, then this.  In short, the NJ media have done a terrible job breaking the bill down for its citizens.  And as of this posting, Gov. Christie has yet to sign the bill into law – and we’re five weeks from school opening.

After days of reading, comprehending, and assessing all of the legalese contained in New Jersey’s “Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act”, I feel comfortable with my level of understanding.

To begin, TEACHNJ is, in my opinion, a fair and appropriate law; everyone in a school system is being held to the same professional expectations and the particulars seem plausible. NJPSA has also issued a supporting statement.  You’ll have to judge for yourself when you read the bill in it’s entirety.

To make things more palpable, I’ve broken down into synopses. I’m only going to address and comment on those points which I find to be a “shift” from the past NJ Administrative Code and law. Again, you’ll want to read the bill for yourself and make any determinations you like. If you notice that I am in error (or can provide better clarity) on sections of the bill, please let me know.

Current Teacher’s and Administrator Tenure Removal Procedures:
Note: To be clear, everyone who has tenure begins the 2013-2014 school year with tenure.  But in order to revoke tenure for these employees, the following will occur
  • Any charge made against any employee of a board of education… shall be filed with the secretary of the board in writing, and a written statement of evidence under oath to support such charge shall be presented to the board.  The board of education shall… provide such employee with a copy of the charge, a copy of the statement of the evidence and an opportunity to submit a written statement of position and a written statement of evidence under oath with respect thereto.   This is pretty standard, except that this occurs after two consecutive annual summative evaluations where the ratings are deemed “ineffective” and/or “partially effective”.
  • After consideration of the charge, statement of position and statements of evidence presented to it, the board shall determine by majority vote of its full membership whether there is probable cause to credit the evidence in support of the charge and whether such charge, if credited, is sufficient to warrant a dismissal or reduction of salary.  So no longer is it up to just the Superintendent to recommend these actions, the BOE must be on record with a vote. 
  • The individual against whom the charges are certified shall have 15 days to submit a written response to the charges to the commissioner… The commissioner shall render a determination on the sufficiency of the charges… within 10 days immediately following.  Not sure if this is standard, but it does crunch the timeline for tenure revocation.
  • If the charges are found to be insufficient, the commissioner will dismiss the charges.  If sufficient evidence is presented, the commissioner will refer the case to to an OAL judge within 10 days.  Again, I believe this is a faster process than currently used.

Teacher Evaluations (beginning 2013-2104) Synopsis:

  • Evaluations must be based on an individual’s job description, professional standards, the use of multiple measures of student progress and multiple data sources. This prevents a school or administrator from unfavorably rating a teacher based on one test, one standardized assessment, or some other inaction that was not outlined in the job description.
  • Only an approved (by the district BOE and the NJDOE) evaluation tool’s rubric can be used as the primary reference for evaluations. Gone are the days of different formats or judgemental summative reviews.
  • The evaluation tool selected and approved must contain the following:
    • four defined annual rating categories for teachers, principals, assistant principals, and vice-principals: ineffective, partially 
    • effective, effective, and highly effective.  No other language may be utilized for ratings.  So, if the Danielson, McREL, Stronge, or other evaluation tool uses different rating categories, get them changed.  

    • a provision requiring that the rubric be partially based on multiple objective measures of student learning that use student growth from one year’s measure to the next year’s measure.   All teacher and administrator PDPs should outline some measure of growth to be achieved.  This can be a percentage of students who improve in writing, unit exams, or other formal assessments.  I know of one school who used a US History writing rubric in all courses – their goal was to have students perform better in their writing using this rubric.  Of course, data must documented and available for review.  Interestingly, there is no requirement in the bill as to how much “partially” means.  Is it 25%?  40%? 50%?  It’s up to the standards set forth in the evaluation tool selected by the school or district.
    • a provision that allows the district, in grades in which a standardized test is not required, to determine the methods for measuring student growth. Art, music, social studies, and physical education must all develop some sort of student growth and measurement tool.
    • a provision that multiple measures of practice and student learning be used in conjunction with professional standards of practice… Standardized assessments shall be used as a measure of student progress but shall not be the predominant factor in the overall evaluation of a teacher.  This came as a relief to many teachers.  Especially AP, math, and language arts teachers.  And it prevents administrators from dismissing teachers using standardized tests, exclusively, as a student performance measure.  Again, though, the weight of this provision in evaluation has yet to be determined.  Is it 10%? 25%?  40%?
    • a provision ensuring that performance measures used in the rubric are linked to student achievement.  Everyone will be evaluated with a performance measure.
    • a requirement that the employee receive multiple observations during the school.. and at least one annual summative evaluation for the school year, and a conference with his superior or superiors following this evaluation.  So the authors of the bill did not specify how many observations must occur (that’s up to districts), but they did mandate a conference.  Lazy administrators can no longer simply send out a summative evaluation and expect it returned without a conference being held.
    • guidelines for school districts regarding training and the demonstration of competence on the evaluation system to support its implementation.  Evaluators (and teachers) must be competent in using the chosen evaluation tool.  Safe to say this should be done annually by districts. 
    • a process for ongoing monitoring and calibration of the observations to ensure that the observation protocols are being implemented correctly and consistently.  This is huge.  Administrators can not be left to their own devices using the evaluation tool.  The process for calibrating and correctly using the tools must be outlined.  How many times do districts actually calibrate and evaluate their evaluation methods?
  • Annual summative evaluations will determine which of the following four ratings a teacher receives: ineffective, partially effective, effective, highly effective… If a teacher receives a rating of “ineffective” or “partially effective” on an annual summative evaluation, a corrective action plan must be developed by the administrator and the plan must include how the school district will assist and provide help. Administrator’s can no longer tell a teacher to “figure it out” or hand them Harry Wong’s book and expect that all will get better.  Schools must develop teachers who are struggling – just as we assist struggling students.
  • A School Improvement Panel (consisting of the principal or designee, an assistant principal or vice-principal, and an exemplary teacher) must evaluate this teacher the following mid-year.  So this is new.  A panel (minus the teacher on the panel) will observe a see struggling teachers mid-way through the year after their previous year’s terrible summative rating.  TEACHNJ doesn’t specify what this evaluation does.  But, it helps to have people helping.
  • If a teacher is rated “ineffective” or “partially effective” on a second consecutive annual summative, the teacher will be brought up for dismissal or withholding of increment.  They key term here is consecutive – if a teacher rate poorly in year one, but effective or better in year two, the first poor rating cannot be held is the teacher again rate poorly in year three.  This prevents teachers from being dismissed or withheld from an increment unless their performance is consistently poor.  Of course, some will say that this allows teachers to “roller coaster” throughout their career.  Bottom line – if a teacher is rate as “ineffective” or “partially ineffective” one an annual summative, but is rated “effective” or “highly effective” on the next annual summative, the teacher is in good standing… unless they rate poorly again, then the panel comes in again.

New Teachers Earning and Retaining Tenure Synopsis:

  • In order to achieve tenure… a teacher shall also complete a district mentorship program during the initial year of employment and receive a rating of effective or highly effective in two annual summative evaluations within the first three years of employment after the initial year of employment in which the teacher completes the district mentorship program.  Teachers will need to complete the mentoring and earn a favorable rating in two of three summative evaluations after their first year of employment.
  • Tenure is gained after four years and one day… after the employee receives a rating of effective or highly effective in each of three consecutive annual summative evaluations with the first effective rating being received on or after the completion of the second year of employment.  The caveat is this – a teacher must be rated as “effective” or “highly effective” three years in a row on or after the first year.  This puts a fair amount of responsibility on college and university teacher-prep programs; they must understand rating systems and exactly what is expected from graduates – no longer will excellent lesson plan designs cut the mustard for preparation.
  • A teacher, principal, assistant principal, or vice-principal under tenure pursuant to State law who accepts employment in the same position in an underperforming school district shall be under tenure in that position in the new district during good behavior and efficiency and shall not be dismissed or reduced in compensation except for inefficiency, incapacity, or conduct unbecoming … after the employee receives a rating of effective or highly effective in each of two consecutive annual summative evaluations.  I suppose this is an incentive for highly rated teachers and administrators to move into underperforming schools without fear of losing tenure.

Administrators Earning and Retaining Tenure Synopsis:

  • In order to 
  • achieve tenure… 
  • a principal, assistant 
  • principal, and vice-principal shall also receive a rating of effective 
  • or highly effective in two annual summative evaluations within the 
  • first three years of employment with the first effective rating being 
  • received on or after the completion of the second year of 
  • employment.  This is fair.  What’s good for teachers applies for administrators.  Although – why is there no mention of Supervisors?  Anyone with that title seems to be “in the clear” in this bill.
  • The superintendent or his designee and the principal, as appropriate, shall conduct a mid-year evaluation of any principal, assistant principal, or vice-principal who is evaluated as ineffective or partially effective in his most recent annual summative evaluation.  Again, this is the process for teachers and, again, no mention of Supervisors.

Dismissal and Withholding Increments Process Synopsis:

  • The Commissioner of Education shall maintain a panel of 25 permanent arbitrators to hear matters pursuant to [dismissal or withholding of increment].  Of the 25 arbitrators, 8 arbitrators shall be designated by the New Jersey Education Association, 3 arbitrators shall be designated by the American Federation of Teachers, 9 arbitrators shall be designated by the New Jersey School Boards Association, and 5 arbitrators shall be designated by the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association.  This is the section of the bill that is highly publicized.  It will speed up the process for districts who wish to dismiss teachers or take an increment.  Some of my colleagues have already asked if 25 people can handle this. 
  • The hearing shall be held before the arbitrator within 45 days of the assignment of the arbitrator to the case; The arbitrator shall receive no more than $1250 per day and no more than $7500 per case.  The costs and expenses of the arbitrator shall be borne by the State of New Jersey.  45 days is quick.  And that’s not bad pay for being an arbitrator once in a while.  I wonder what the tax payers will think.
  • Upon referral of the case for arbitration, the employing board of education shall provide all evidence including, but not limited to, documents, electronic evidence, statements of witnesses, and a list of witnesses with a complete summary of their testimonyto the employee or the employee’s representative. The employing board of education shall be precluded from presenting any additional evidence at the hearing, except for purposes of impeachment of witnesses.  Fair enough.  Just like in a trial, everyone sees the evidence.  Emails included.
  • The arbitrator shall render a written decision within [30 business] 45 days of the start of the hearing.  The arbitrator’s determination shall be final and binding and may not be appealable to the commissioner or the State Board of Education.  The determination shall be subject to judicial review.  45 days to hear the case, 45 days to render a decision.  In 90 days, an employee can be dismissed or an increment withheld.  That’s quick.  And you can’t appeal to the boss.  You have to go to a judge.
  • In the event that the matter before the arbitrator… is employee inefficiency… in rendering a decision the arbitrator shall only consider whether or not… the employee’s evaluation failed to adhere substantially to the evaluation process, including, but not limited to providing a corrective action plan…there is a mistake of fact in the evaluation… the district’s actions were arbitrary and capricious.  Administrators must be very diligent in the evaluation process and with providing corrective action plans after the first annual summative with a rating of “inefficient” or “partially efficient”.  If you mess it up, you lose. 
  • ... In the case of a teacher, principal, assistant principal, and vice-principal: the superintendent shall promptly file with the secretary of the board of education a charge of inefficiency whenever the employee is rated ineffective or partially effective in an annual summative evaluation and the following year is rated ineffective in the annual summative evaluation… Within  30 days of the filing, the board of education shall forward a written charge to the commissioner, unless the board determines that the evaluation process has not been followed.  Here it is.  The two year rule.  And remember, this is after the School Improvement Panel has done an observation after the first poor rating.  But I ask again, what about Supervisors?
  • … Upon receipt of a charge pursuant to subsection a. of this section, the commissioner shall examine the charge.  The individual against whom the charges are filed shall have 10 days to submit a written response to the charges to the commissioner.  The commissioner shall, within five days immediately following the period provided for a written response to the charges, refer the case to an arbitrator and appoint an arbitrator to hear the case, unless he determines that the evaluation process has not been followed.  Be diligent evaluators, else your integrity be called into question. 
  • The only evaluations which may be used for purposes of this section are those evaluations conducted in accordance with a rubric adopted by the board and approved by the commissioner.  You can’t make it up as you go along.  Stick to the evaluation tool.

That’s my assessment of TEACHNJ.  Some takeaways I’ve made from this exercise:

  1. Tenure is not dead
  2. Tenure reform has been adopted
  3. Gov. Christie didn’t get what he wanted (in entirety)
  4. Administrators must be knowledgeable and loyal to the evaluation tool and process
  5. Arbitrators make a nice chunk of change for hearing cases
  6. Last In, First Out (LIFO) is still alive
  7. We are all playing by the same rules now

    Author: Michael Parent, Ed.D

    Father, husband, school administrator in NJ. "Education cures poverty".

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