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NJ Education Chief Defends Teacher Evaluation System [AUDIO]

When he unveiled his education reform plans, Governor Chris Christie said it’s time to advance his education agenda so a child’s zip code doesn’t dictate their academic destiny.

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, Governor Chris Christie, and Camden Mayor Dana Redd
Governor's Office/Tim Larsen

Yesterday, acting Education commissioner Chris Cerf defended one of the controversial facets of the reforms: teacher evaluations.

Assembly Budget Committee member Declan O’Scanlon asked Cerf, “The goal here isn’t just to fire teachers is it?”

“It is absolutely not,” replied Cerf. “I’m not saying that if you get teachers who are failing kids in an abject manner that you shouldn’t use that evaluation system to appropriately and fairly exit them from the system.”

“New Jersey taxpayers have always been generous with public education and this budget proposes the largest appropriation of state education dollars in the state’s history,” says O’Scanlon. “The administration’s approach to education goes beyond dollars. More important is the dramatic culture change so the department is focused on improving the quality of education instead of bureaucratic minutia. It is committed to making sure the very high level of resources we devote to education pays off for taxpayers in the form of better education for children.”

Cerf says the interests of kids in this state are advanced if his department can turn average teachers into good teachers are good teachers into great teachers. He insists the evaluation system simply honors the reality that nothing matters as much as the effectiveness of the teachers in the classrooms.

A year ago the Governor sent a seven-bill package of education proposals to the state legislature.

“These reforms will reward great teachers through better pay and career paths, allow us to identify the struggling teachers and get them the help they need, and put in place a multiple measured evaluation system that will provide an avenue to remove the bad teachers who are not getting results in the classroom” Christie said.

Specifically, the group of seven bills submitted to the legislature by Governor Christie calls for:

Implementation of a multiple measured statewide evaluation system by the 2012-2013 school year that requires observation and evaluation of all educators at least twice per year with summative evaluation at the end of the school year using the rating categories of highly effective, effective, partially effective, or ineffective.

Tenure attainment with recommendations for tenure eligibility only after four years of service and after ratings of “effective” or “highly effective” have been received for the proceeding three years with guidelines for lesser ratings. Tenure status is lost after an evaluation as ineffective for one year or partially effective for two years.

Reforming laws governing reductions in force (“Last In, First Out”) so that any layoffs are based on effectiveness — not seniority — and determined by an evaluation system established by the Commissioner of Education.

Mutual consent that calls for agreement by both the principal and teacher on all teacher assignments to schools. Where a principal does not consent to a tenured teacher’s placement in his or her school, that teacher will continue to receive compensation for 12 months while searching for an assignment in the district, after which he or she will be placed on unpaid leave.

Reforming teacher compensation to focus on an educator’s demonstrated effectiveness in advancing student learning, as well as whether the educator is teaching in a failing school or is teaching in a subject area that has been identified as a difficult-to-staff subject area.

Due process changes to eliminate a provision requiring a teacher against whom tenure charges were filed to begin receiving full salary and benefits after 120 days of start of the process as well as implementing a firm deadline requiring Administrative Law Judges hearing tenure revocation cases to render a decision within 30 days.

Allow for school districts to opt out of the Civil Service System.

Two of the cornerstones of Christie plans are merit pay for teachers and the elimination of seniority protections. State Senate President Steve Sweeney objects to both proposals and say he won’t post either for a vote.

“I’ve never been a fan of merit pay. I don’t believe in it,” said Sweeney earlier this month. “Sometime when you have merit pay, you have the ability to have favorites. A real hard teacher gets less money than another teacher because he or she is not the favorite.”

Sweeney and other critics say seniority protections are needed to protect older teachers from being laid off in order to save districts money on retirement costs.

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