Posts Tagged tenure

Op-Ed: Who is Doing the Classroom Observations?

Master teachers should be helping their colleagues to improve

By Michael Hoban, NJ  Spotlight

On December 8, 2012, an arbitrator made a very important decision under the new TEACHNJ law.

As the author of the article points out, the significance of this case is that it is the first contested case under the new law that involves a teacher’s classroom performance. And the arbitrator ruled in favor of the teacher over the district.

in essence, the arbitrator ruled that the evidence presented by the district contradicted itself. Here is what he said:

“With reference to TEACHNJ . . . I find that the employee’s evaluation failed to adhere substantially to the evaluation process . . . much of the Board’s best evidence is internally and irreparably contradictory when it comes to the heart of the work of a teacher — actual classroom instruction.”

The heart of this contradiction was the fact that the principal gave the teacher a numerical ranking of zero in four of five subcategories of actual classroom instruction — while giving him a “glowing narrative supervisory commentary regarding Respondent’s [teacher’s] actual classroom instruction.”

The arbitrator said: “In light of the Principal’s narrative, there is no dispute on the salient facts – namely, the Respondent is much more than a four out of five zeroed unsatisfactory classroom teacher.”

As I read the facts in this case, two very significant thoughts struck me:

  • The arbitrator is absolutely correct in stating that actual classroom instruction is the heart of the work of a teacher.
  • Why on earth is the principal (an administrator) doing the classroom observation?

Regarding No.1: it is good to see that this arbitrator recognizes that a teacher must be judged essentially on his/her actual classroom instruction.

In an article on NJ Spotlight, I wrote that classroom observation must be the essential element at the heart of any “teacher evaluation system” and must be at the core of any attempt to “improve teaching” in the state of NJ.

In that article, I wrote: “If anyone tries to convince you that you can judge a teacher’s effectiveness or you can help a teacher improve her teaching without observing that teacher in a normal classroom situation — that person knows little or nothing about teaching.”

“And the single, most effective way to help a teacher improve through classroom observation is videotaping an entire classroom period under the care and guidance of a master teacher.”

But item No. 2 is the one I wish to focus on here. Who is it that decided that a principal (an administrator) should be doing classroom observations? That is like asking a plumber to evaluate the work of an electrician.

Teaching in a classroom and administering a school are two very different skills. It is a grave mistake to assume that any administrator can be a good judge of effective classroom instruction.

Of course, some school administrators may have been effective classroom teachers. But to assume that this is the case would be an error. I have known some very effective principals who quite frankly admitted to leaving the classroom because they “disliked teaching.”

And is there not an inherent conflict of interest when the person (the principal) charged with doing the entire annual evaluation is also the one doing the classroom observation? This model is deeply flawed.

So who is going to do the classroom observations?

I would think that the answer would be somewhat obvious. Clearly, the best and most respected classroom teachers in the district should be the ones observing and helping the other teachers to improve their classroom instruction.

Every school district in the state of New Jersey needs to establish a classroom observation team (COT) made up of “master teachers” — that is, teachers who are recognized as being really good. And these are the people who should be doing the actual classroom observations after some appropriate training, so that all observations are carried out in a uniform manner. Ideally, videotaping of the instruction and a supportive conference between the observer and the teacher would be an integral part of this process.

Of course, I am not advocating that these teachers should be removed from the classroom for this purpose. It would be truly ironic if we were to take some of our best classroom teachers out of the classroom entirely in order to “improve education.”

Rather, depending on the size of the district, the COT would have to have sufficient members so that each individual could do his/her observations with some “released time” from their teaching duties.

In closing, there are four basic assumptions which I feel should be incorporated into any successful district-wide teacher evaluation system (TES):

  • The primary goal of a successful TES must be “teacher improvement” and not some form of punitive action.
  • The primary element of a successful TES must be “classroom observations,” which should count for at least 65 percent of the total evaluation of the teacher.
  • The primary element of a successful classroom observation should be the videotaping of an entire segment of the learning experience (at least 45 to 60 minutes).
  • Classroom observations should be conducted by district-wide designated “master teachers,” who have at least seven years of actual “comparable” classroom teaching experience.

Clearly, “results” must also form a part of a teacher’s evaluation. But “test results” (unless they are truly “value-added results”) tell you very little about how good a particular teacher is. Observing a teacher tells you a great deal more.

And, obviously, the follow-up meeting between the teacher and the observer to review the videotape is the most important aspect of the entire process in terms of really helping the teacher.

I would hope that we could all agree that improvement of teaching must be the essential goal of any teacher evaluation system.

Anyone who knows anything about teachers and teaching understands that a system that does not try to help teachers improve their teaching is doomed to failure. Why would any group of educated people support a system which seems designed more to punish them than to help them?

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Spotlight Research: NJ Teacher-Evaluation Reform Compared to Other States

Drew professor looks at progress in implementing systems required by Race to the Top

What it is: The Center for American Progress, a liberal public policy think-tank, this week released a report titled “The State of Teacher Evaluation Reform,” which looks at new teacher-evaluation systems in New Jersey and five other states as they continue to evolve under new state and national mandates. (more…)

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Newark Contract Marks High Point of Christie Education Agenda

Most recent deal could be last major victory as election year looms

Gov. Chris Christie clearly placed education at the top of his priorities from the day he was elected three years ago, making his very first stop a Newark charter school and promising a host of reforms to come. (more…)

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NJ Spotlight Roundtable: Evaluating New Approach to Evaluating Educators

Talk during first half of discussion centers on tight deadlines facing districts

As part of its ongoing Roundtable Series, NJ Spotlight on Saturday hosted a panel discussion on New Jersey’s efforts to overhaul the way school districts evaluate teachers, principals and other staff.

NJ Spotlight’s third such event on the topic – held at Rutgers-Newark before about 100 people — was the first since Gov. Chris Christie this summer signed a new tenure law that raises the stakes for educators on how they fare in those evaluations. (more…)

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President Obama Addresses Education Nation Summit

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

President Obama shares his vision for the nation’s education future in a taped interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, discussing what it will take to prepare all Americans for the high-skill jobs of the 21st century.

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New report offers clues to Gov Christie’s future school reform plans

This is part of a series from education blogger Laura Waters of NJ Left Behind.

On September 5th, the Christie Administration’s Education Transformation Task Force released a 239-page report intended to address inefficiencies and inequities in N.J.’s sprawling public school system. The Task Force was led by David Hespe, former N.J. Commissioner of Education, Co-Executive Director of STEM Education at Liberty Science Center, and, currently, Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s Chief of Staff.

This tome is the third in a series: the first report (a mere 25 pages) was issued by then-Governor-Elect Christie’s Education Transition Team and published on January 16th, 2010. The second report (ramping up to 49 pages) is dated Sept. 12, 2011 and, like the third report, was produced under the auspices of the Education Transformation Task Force, established by Executive Order earlier that year.

These three reports form a narrative of the Republican Governor’s education reform agenda, with recommendations addressing issues both big and small. Some of the more substantive items include reining in school costs (the first report notes that N.J. “currently spends more per?student on pre?K?12 education than forty?eight of the fifty states”), addressing N.J.’s daunting achievement gap between rich and poor students, tenure reform, expanding school choice, and cutting the voluminous set of regulations that govern school district operations (formally known as the Quality Single Accountability Continuum, or QSAC, a name as unwieldy as its application).

One can chart the successes and failures of the Christie Administration’s education reform agenda through the course of the three reports. So let’s look at two of those items near and dear to a N.J.’s reformer’s heart: ending LIFO, or seniority-based layoffs, and shifting the role of the Department of Education from a bureaucracy obsessed with compliance to trivia into a high-functioning governmental body focused on student achievement.

LIFO, the practice of eliminating teachers during lay-offs in order of years served regardless of classroom effectiveness, is the Rubicon of education reform. For “reformy” types, LIFO is the maddening result of decades of privileging worker rights over students, an industrial-era mentality that insults education professionals by relegating them to the role of widgets, interchangeable cogs on a wheel. (See this highly-regarded report, “The Widget Effect,” from The New Teacher Project.) But for union diehards, LIFO is an essential protection against a school board’s predilection towards nepotism and hiring young unseasoned teachers in order to save a few bucks in payroll.

Gov. Christie and Comm. Cerf have ardently advocated for the end of LIFO. In fact, the original version of Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill eliminated LIFO, to gusty cheers from the reform aisle. But a last minute, expedient compromise with NJEA and AFT (NJ’s teacher unions) resulted in an important transformative bill that, alas, retained LIFO. (Hey, it could be worse: in Connecticut during lay-offs, if two teachers have acquired the same amount of seniority, the one who keeps his or her job is the one with the lower social security number.)

But never say die. The three reports indefatigably promote the elimination of LIFO and its replacement with a system that retains teachers based on student academic growth.

The bulk of the (bulky) third report from the Task Force is a massive rewrite of QSAC, the DOE regulatory apparatus that itemizes, in excruciating detail, every function of a school district. Originally intended to optimize efficiency, QSAC actually distracts districts from areas relevant to student achievement, conflicts with No Child Left Behind mandates, and costs districts extra money.

So the Task Force takes on this monster. From the third report: “The regulations identified for elimination or modification falls into a number of categories. Some are simply unrelated to student learning, fiscal integrity, or student health and safety – the areas about which we are most concerned. Others are duplicative of existing statutory language, thereby causing clutter in the Department’s code book. Some regulations are unclear, confusing both those charged with administering them and those attempting to comply with them. Finally, some regulations clearly stifle educator innovation and autonomy.”

Many, if not all, of these changes will be applauded by school board members, superintendents, business administrators, and everyone else crushed under the weight of ineffective, costly, and gratuitous regulations.

These reports, taken as three volumes of a set, comprise a record of Gov. Christie’s education priorities, a detailed catalogue of his triumphs and disappointments during his first term in office. If he goes for a second term, these reports will function as a window into his education reform ambitions post-2013.

Laura Waters is president of the Lawrence Township School Board in Mercer County. She also writes about New Jersey’s public education on her blog NJ Left Behind. Follow her on Twitter @NJLeftbehind.

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Critics say education reform bill signed by Gov. Christie doesn’t fix state’s biggest issues

Everyone in Trenton agrees: The state’s brand-new law overhauling teacher tenure is one for the history books.

Gov. Chris Christie says it brings landmark reform to a century-old system that protects mediocre teachers. For Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), it’s “one of the most significant pieces of legislation this Legislature has acted upon.”

Even Christie’s arch-enemies at the New Jersey Education Association like the new policy, which subjects teachers and principals to yearly evaluations that will make it tougher to gain job security and easier to lose it.

But just as the measure enjoyed near-universal support when Christie signed it earlier this month, there is also a consensus among leading Democrats and Republicans that it doesn’t go far enough for inner-city schools.

Those reformers may be out of luck this year.

Interviews with administration officials, Democratic lawmakers and NJEA leaders reveal that whatever momentum there was for education reform has mostly fizzled. Instead, they’re back to bickering over how much teachers should earn and which ones should be laid off first when budgets are tight. And nobody’s budging.

Even Christie’s education commissioner, Christopher Cerf, isn’t satisfied.
“If this is our one shot at reform, this is a terrible disappointment,” Cerf told a panel of lawmakers before the bill passed, lamenting that nothing would be done to address seniority rights that guard the longest-serving teachers from layoffs.

The same issue spurred Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), a staunch Christie ally, to introduce a bill ending seniority rights days after the governor’s signing ceremony.

And in Newark, Mayor Cory Booker and School Superintendent Cami Anderson weren’t very impressed with the new tenure policy, arguing that real reform will take more work.

Cerf, Anderson and other Democrats say younger teachers can be more motivated, and losing them automatically to budget cuts hurts urban schools. But Democratic lawmakers aren’t eager to tackle what’s left on Christie’s wish list — not seniority, not merit pay, not vouchers, not an expansion of charter schools.

They first want to see how schools adapt to the new tenure law.

“Let’s see if this works, let’s give it a shot,” said Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden), a key player in the tenure debate. Greenwald said he won’t dismiss any proposal out of hand, but he said some of Christie’s ideas — like expanding charter schools into the suburbs — have led to “disaster.”

“We should be working on things like tenure reform, where we got wide agreement from all the interested parties,” Greenwald said, “not on expanding on some ideological ground charter schools in areas that aren’t served by them.”

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said that “while the (tenure) reform was terrific and made advancements not seen in 100 years” there is plenty left to do. The administration will review Kyrillos’s bill carefully, he said.

Another Christie spokesman, Kevin Roberts, added: “It’s easy to focus on what was left out of tenure reform but at the same time there are still many other aspects of public education reform that can be acted on apart from personnel changes.”

When he laid out his education priorities earlier this year, Christie put teacher evaluations at the top of his list. He got them, but it seemingly cost him everything else he wanted, including an end to seniority and higher pay for teachers in difficult subjects, also known as “merit pay.”

Meanwhile, the NJEA lobbied hard to secure everything it had sketched out last year: a four-year tenure track, a one-year mentorship program, transferring employment disputes from the court system to arbitrators, and leaving seniority rights as is.

“We did our research,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer. “More rational people prevailed.”
Wollmer said seniority should be a moot issue now that yearly evaluations are being adopted. A teacher who performs poorly for two years could be fired, he said, and that’s the best way to weed out bad apples.

To the NJEA, Wollmer said, the biggest question is figuring out what the teacher evaluations will look like and how much weight will be given to standardized test scores. Merit pay and Christie’s other proposals are non-starters, he said.

“We welcome the discussion but off of what we know we don’t think those ideas are the way to go,” he said. “They’re not going to result in major changes — there’s no research showing that.”

State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), the architect of the new law, initially proposed allowing teachers who had tenure before the effective date of the bill to keep seniority rights. Those who got tenure after would not have the protection.

Ruiz told The Star-Ledger editorial board in May she crafted it that way hoping to coax the NJEA into a compromise. But when the powerful union — and the lawmakers who support them — would not budge, Ruiz amended the bill for fear it would not pass.

“I can sit here and fold my arms and say it’s not enough, but then we get nothing done,” Ruiz said of her decision.

The New Jersey School Boards Association, which long called for changes to teachers’ seniority rights, felt crushing disappointment when it learned of Ruiz’s decision, said spokesman Frank Belluscio.

“If you look at the numbers in terms of enrollment trends, reductions in force are going to have to be made in the future in New Jersey,” he said. “It’s essential that districts be able to decide whom to lay off based on performance rather than time on the job.”

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NJEA to stand with Christie on tenure bill

MIDDLESEX — The president of New Jersey’s largest teachers union will appear with Gov. Chris Christie as he signs a bill to overhaul the state’s teacher tenure system.

Monday’s bill-signing is a rare moment of cooperation for Christie and New Jersey Education Association President Barbara Keshishian. (more…)

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