New Jersey State Senator Joe Kyrillos (R- Monmouth) has introduced legislation, S-2881, aimed at providing all children in New Jersey with an effective teacher in their classrooms. "The School Children First Act" will reform teachers' tenure and pay structure, and bringing these important protections in line with the state constitution's mandate of a "thorough and efficient" system of public education. The legislation is modeled after Governor Christie's teacher tenure and salary reform proposals.
"We cannot, as a state, tolerate a public education system in which some children have access to good teachers while others do not," said Kyrillos. "We must make the system work better for kids by rewarding excellent teachers and removing those who are not effective in the classroom. In order to meet the state constitution's requirement of a thorough and efficient system of public schools for all children, we must put their needs above all else in every facet of our educational system. That includes how tenure and compensation are earned."
The legislation replaces traditional teacher tenure with protections that must be earned and maintained through annual evaluations that rely heavily on classroom observation, making it easier to identify and remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.
The pay structure of the teaching field will be reformed as well. Student achievement will play a role in determining salary awards under the bill, a change from the current system which compensates teachers based on seniority.
"The new system puts students first by protecting and rewarding teachers who are effective, aiding those who need to improve but still show promise and passion, and moving those who are persistently ineffective out of the classroom," Kyrillos stated. "All the while, this legislation protects educators from arbitrary or politically motivated termination."
Under the bill, tenure is earned after three annual evaluations of "effective" or "highly effective". A teacher loses and must re-earn tenure after one rating of "ineffective" or two evaluations of "partially effective".
"Teachers who are performing well or who clearly will perform well with additional mentoring and guidance have nothing to fear from this type of reform," said Kyrillos. "However, the new system improves on current practice by stopping the excuses for educators who are clearly incapable in the classroom or have burned out."
Finally, the bill as drafted prioritizes students' needs by ensuring that a school's most effective educators are retained if staffing reductions are made. "I'll take a great third year teacher over an ineffective veteran of the system any day of the week," said the Senator. "When staffing decisions are made, our children should have access to the best teachers whether they've spent two or twenty years in the classroom."
Kyrillos said he hopes that the debate over his bill will be based on its merits rather than fear. "Change is always difficult in government, but I hope that those who disagree with this bill do so based on fact rather than fear mongering," he said. "A system that makes it too difficult and costly to remove teachers who are failing, that unnecessarily creates winners and losers among our state's school children because of red tape and bureaucracy, is neither thorough nor efficient."