Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Proposal: How to Evaluate New Jersey Teachers

Two March 19 newspaper articles, one in the Courier News and one in the Wall Street Journal, addressed  problems that will be faced by those empowered to design the metrics that will be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness in the new tenure reform measures being developed in both New Jersey and New York. In New York, the Rochester and Buffalo teachers’ unions are insisting that the test scores of chronically absent students should not be held against a teacher as part of their evaluation. There is also concern with the inordinate power being given to principals in determining the final “grade” a teacher will receive. The article also points out that wealthier school districts, which typically don’t face the same problems as those faced in the inner city, may decide that the disruption that this new evaluation system may engender is not worth the trouble, as they are generally content with the performance of their teachers.

There are currently 11 school districts in New jersey experimenting with a model evaluation system, providing anecdotes and empirical data that can be used by legislators in preparing the final draft of Senator Ruiz’s TEACHNJ bill, S1455. The article focused on particular observation, noting the difficulty that pricipals and other evaluators may encounter when trying to assess the overall performance of a teacher in her presentation of her observed lesson. The article also noted the importance of training evaluators, and eluded to a point I believe is essential to a strong, legitimate performance review, that being the use of “professional observers” to handle the important task of evaluating teacher performance.

I have been arguing along similar lines, believing that every school district should hire clinical supervisors whose only job will be to work with teachers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom. These observers would also have a vital role in the critical evaluations that will be done for each member of the faculty. It is not hard to find any number of teachers with horror stories to tell about their principal’s arbitrary and capricious behavior towards individual members of the staff. It is perfectly understandable that teachers are hesitant to place their tenure and their careers in the hands of these administrators. Their concerns are legitimate and must be addressed in any final writing of the bill.

Every district in New Jersey has been charged with designing a list of metrics, and the rubrics that will be used to assess performance in each metric, as the basis for evaluating the performance of their teachers. Even something that seems so straightforward as using a quantitative metric like test scores is problematic since only 2 of the 7 content areas identified by the State have a standardized test in place, those being math and language arts, the two subjects covered in New Jersey’s HSPA.

As a former teacher, I feel that I have a fairly good understanding of their concerns and desire to actively participate in the creation of the metrics and rubrics that will be used. I have put a lot of thought into identifying what I believe are the qualities that make for an effective teacher, and believe that an evaluation system can be created from this that will meet with approval from both the NJEA and the other stakeholders empowered to develop a framework for these evaluations. As I see it, five metrics should be established to assess teacher effectiveness, and within each metric a set of rubrics, rubrics that include both qualitative and quantitative factors, should be created. The assessment would look at the performance of both the teacher and the students whose learning they are responsible for. For anyone who’s listening, these are the metrics, or categories, I propose:

       1.      Passion

2.      Organization

3.      Knowledge

4.      Empowerment

5.      Utilization of Resources

I invite your comments and feedback, especially from any teachers that are reading my blog. I believe that this is a fair, valid, and uncomplicated approach to teacher evaluations. It addresses issues that both teachers and administrators would agree are characteristic of successful teachers. I’m of course a little biased, but I’d love to see it given a try.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Intended and Unintended Consequences of Tenure Reform

Those of you who have read my recent blog posts or Op-Ed piece in the Trenton Times know that I am a strong supporter of tenure reform, though I have trouble with the current legislation- known as TEACHNJ- being proposed by Senator Theresa Ruiz. I am hopeful that a more palatable version of the bill will emerge, and that we can begin the important task of improving the performance of teachers and holding them more accountable for the quality and extent of true learning that is taking place in our classrooms. As is clear from the poor levels of proficiency attained by too many of our children, especially those in the inner city, there is a real difference between teaching something and learning something. My support for tenure reform is founded on three important interests; interests that I hope will be addressed as a consequence of tenure reform.

The first interest is for improving the quality of supervision being provided for New Jersey teachers. The majority of today’s supervisor observations and evaluations are summative in nature, essentially a review and critique of a teacher’s performance on a given day. Some teachers will be observed a few times over the course of the year, but the majority of tenured teachers will be observed once. In my 18 years as a tenured teacher, I was observed 17 times; not one principal EVER sat in on one of my classes.

The new bill requires several evaluations, and I hope, I pray, that some districts will take it upon themselves to make a commitment to providing clinical supervision to its teachers, even to go so far as hire a supervisor whose ONLY job is to provide this essential type of support. Clinical supervision is typically collaborative in nature, formative for those teachers who are underperforming, and include a pre and post conference. The supervisor is in the class to observe a particular aspect of the lesson as determined in the pre-conference; they are in essence a second set of eyes in the classroom to help a teacher improve in some agreed upon area. Clinical supervision is the key to improved teacher performance. I challenge any educator to prove to me otherwise.

The second interest is for bringing performance pay into the remuneration system we use to pay teachers. The current system, essentially based on nothing more than seniority (years of service) and attained degrees, is an absolute farce. First of all, there is absolutely NO empirical evidence that attained degrees has any positive correlation with classroom performance. NONE. And paying teachers simply based on how long they have taught is tantamount to telling a teacher they can produce at a minimum level of competency without any penalty. There is absolutely no incentive built into the system to encourage teachers to reach for the “top tail” of the normal curve. To assume that all teachers are always striving to maximize their performance because they “love to teach” and because they “love their kids” is a joke. The system is unfair to our best teachers, and is in fact a disincentive for any high achieving college student that might consider teaching as their career.

The new tier evaluation system is an obvious precursor to a performance pay plan. With four tiers to assign teachers- from ineffective to highly effective- it will be easy to adapt this to a performance pay scheme where a portion of a teacher’s salary is determined by which tier they are placed.

My final interest is in scrapping the current HSPA, and this new legislation may produce change here as well. As was pointed out at the bill’s hearing, only 20% of the subject matter taught by teachers is included in the HSPA, which is really nothing more than a test of reading, writing, and math. The overwhelming majority of coursework required by our Core Content Curriculum Standards is not covered by the HSPA. Since quantitative metrics such as improvement on standardized test scores is one of the indices that will be used to evaluate teachers, it would seem to be necessary to design a graduation test that includes all seven subject areas in the CCCS, not just two. The fact that we have a graduation test that doesn’t include questions about law, government, economics, science, health, history, and the arts is a farce. How can we truly determine how well we are preparing our students to survive and prosper in our democratic/free market society if we don’t in some way test them? Personally, I think our CCCS are also a joke, loaded with “cumulative progress indicators” of things that we might want kids to learn, when they should be limited to only those things that high school students MUST learn. I promise that in an upcoming post I’ll give you some details on what a graduation test should look like.

So in conclusion I reiterate my support for tenure reform, it is much needed and long overdue. If tenure reform does pass, I am optimistic that it will have a cascade effect, leading to a host of other changes that I believe are critical if we are truly committed to improving teacher performance, attracting the best and brightest into the profession,  and preparing our children for the challenges of today’s society. I hope I’m right!

Courier News is Wrong on Voter Approval of Charter Schools

On Monday March 19th the Courier News editorial “Let Voters Decide on Charter Schools” endorsed the current legislation working its way through New Jersey’s Assembly and Senate. The legislation calls for voter approval of all new charter schools being proposed within their school district. I can appreciate the concerns residents may harbor for these schools, but I could not disagree more with the proposed remedy, especially when a much more viable solution exists.

The backlash against charter schools is a relatively recent phenomenon and has been fueled by the sudden interest in opening charter schools in some of our State’s more successful school districts like West Windsor, Princeton, and East Brunswick. These are districts with no real need for reform, and many of these proposed charters- schools I have termed “boutique” charters- are designed to offer “innovations” such as immersion in Mandarin or Hebrew, to cite two examples. They offer “alternatives,” but they do not offer anything that I can see as discernible improvement in the quality of education being provided in the existing public schools. They are a luxury, not a need, and I can understand the public’s discomfort with the disruption these schools can cause and the objection to tax money being redirected to these charters.

The legislation, however, does not limit voter referendum to just these high performing school districts, but to all school districts, including those in communities where the need for innovation and new initiatives to improve the quality of education is immediate and profound. Passage of this legislation threatens efforts  to reform education in our inner cities, and that would be a real tragedy.

Referendums in general are very expensive undertakings to stakeholders with an interest in the outcome, and this will not only draw important financial and human resources into a political contest, but it exposes our real need for reform to the influence of interest groups with a personal stake in the outcome. Moreover, a public referendum demands that the populace be educated and aware of the issues, and I find it highly unlikely that people will take the time to learn the educational philosophy and mission of the proposed charters, and even those that do take the time to gather information probably don’t have the background to fully understand the educational objectives on which these charters are founded. This is an issue best decided by professionals in the field.

In one important respect I totally agree with residents in these high performing suburban districts; charter schools do not belong in their communities. If you read the original legislation, and followed the original debate, it would be clear that the intent of the charter school reform bill was to improve the deplorable state of education in the inner city. The idea was to create schools that would serve as “laboratories,” bringing innovative and original ideas on teaching and learning into our inner cities as a means of improving the quality of education received by all inner city students. It was an initiative rooted in a belief that collaboration, not competition, would help produce fundamental change.

New Jersey’s inner cities NEED charter schools, our suburban communities do not. As an alternative to this legislation, I propose that some legislator propose a bill that simply limits new charter schools to certain geographic areas, rather than place all charter schools to a public vote. This would refocus the charter school movement to those areas where these schools were originally intended, while also leaving approval of these schools in the hands of professionals that are better equipped to assess these proposed schools for their educational validity and potential for success.

The blending of education and politics is messy, complicated, and too prone to influence by people that do not always have the best interest of our children in mind. As charter schools gravitate to our wealthier communities, a backlash was to be expected. To me these “boutique” charters are ego driven initiatives undertaken by individuals with personal agendas that may or may not have the best interest of all New Jersey children in mind. It is a shame that the charter school community doesn’t have a “self-regulating” feature that could have stopped this emerging problem before it took hold. Let’s hope that a better solution can be found. Voter referendum is not the way to go.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Enabling Effective Teachers

Ever since Senator Ruiz’s hearing on S1455 I have been consumed with the issue of teacher effectiveness. The importance of effective teachers to a young person’s overall development is so fundamental its importance cannot be overstated. Along with parents and peers- whose minds they also shape- teachers can have both bold and subtle influences.

I’m going to declare that the effectiveness of a teacher is more important than a curriculum’s content. It goes without saying that an effective teacher is able to present meaningful content and teach essential skills. The most crucial aspect of a lesson is the learning. Teaching something is not the same as learning something. True learning must be assessed, and we must all understand that assessing learning goes well beyond passing a test. I used to tell my students that they should be able to hold an intelligent conversation for at least 5 minutes on whatever one is learning, whether it be coursework, independent study, or group oriented work.

This gets me back to teacher effectiveness. To me there are 5 characteristics of an effective teacher. They are passionate. They are organized. They are knowledgeable. They are empowering. And they are resourceful. If I were evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness, these are the lenses I would use.

Of the five, passion and knowledge are inextricably linked to the learning process. Research in neuroscience seems to indicate that both should be present for true learning to take place. Now it is unreasonable to expect a student to be equally passionate and knowledge seeking in all of her classes, but it is not too much to ask that the teacher be both passionate and knowledgeable about their course curriculum.

Here’s when an issue- a huge issue to me- arises. It is my belief that  the amount of required subject matter at the high school level is ridiculous, and quite simply it is my contention that the exhorbitant, unnecessary, and excessive demands of the Core Curriculum Content Standards is perhaps one of the greatest HINDRANCES to effective teaching and true learning  in our state mandates.

It is bad enough that our HSPA, the test we use for graduation, is almost completely disconnected from the seven content areas identified by the State. As I stated before, I believe our graduation test should be more akin to a “lifelong learning” test, with students demonstrating they have the requisite financial skills, legal knowledge, historical understanding, awareness of our natural world, and understanding of the human body to be an independent, informed citizen. They should also have acquired the important technological, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills that will help them assimilate into our culture, whether it be in their personal or workforce spheres.

To accomplish these goals, we need the vast majority of our teachers to be effective, able to nimbly see that true learning is taking place in their classroom. I believe the path to this is achievable and worth discussion. Quite simply, I believe that we need to drastically rewrite the Core Curriculum Content Standards, particularly at the high school level, to limit required content to those things that a teenager MUST learn, those things that are essential to “life beyond high school.” Each academic association, whether it be science, social studies, or languge arts for example, believes that there is a lot that should be learned in their field, and the result of having each of their representatives draw up part of the state curriculum is a document that is way too large, onerous, and unnecessary.

Let us rethink and rewrite the CCCS and our graduation test, and at the same time liberate teachers, empower them to design their own curricula, reflecting their own personal passion and knowledge within their fields. It is incumbent on the members of an academic department, working in concert with any department supervisor, to make sure that the revised state standards are met, but beyond that we should support their effort to expand their own learning, and the end result will be dynamic, spirited, and engaging classes with effective teachers that are extremely motivated to insure that learning is taking place.

With proper oversight and collaboration from supervisors and peers, and with liberal access to resources, I wholeheartedly believe that this vision will unleash enormous creative and intellectual energy by our teachers. By allowing teachers to write curricula that express their personal passion and knowledge, our public schools will be energized to produce true learning by our teenagers. School will begin to look more like a true marketplace of ideas, as teachers look to subtly outdo one another in a bit of collegial intellectual competition, whether it be done individually or in teams. What we will have is what I have termed “entrepreneurial educators,’ teachers that see their course as their invention, their business, their product or service.

We live in a society that heralds its entrepreneurs, and as I heard the representative of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce say at the hearing, “education and entrepreneurship have been the agents of our prosperity.” I could not agree more, and believe that we can channel this spirit into the classroom, producing effective teachers and empowered students inspired to learn. What a wonderful thought.

Friday, March 9, 2012

More on the Implications of Senator Ruiz's Bill

Senator Ruiz’s TEACHNJ bill is just the kind of legislation we need in New Jersey. Even though there is a lot in the bill I take issue with, it’s the kind of legislation that raises so many tangential issues and is so provocative and progressive that it may stimulate people to think and motivate people to act on behalf of education reform, but more importantly on behalf of our children.

In my previous blog I addressed the overall issues of teacher accountability and effectiveness, taking the position that the bill is heavily skewed towards accountability; the amount of attention and resources the bill dedicates to teacher effectiveness could lead many to conclude it was nothing more than a cynical effort to placate certain stakeholders. Or maybe the Senator just didn’t bother consulting specialists in the field that could have provided her with a more extensive menu of choices for improving teacher effectiveness.  The bill utilizes operant conditioning based on negative reinforcement: to avoid losing your tenure or being transferred you better get off your ass and improve your effectiveness. The threat of losing tenure or being transferred is supposed to stimulate or strengthen positive behavior, in this case more effective teaching. I’m not saying this won’t work, but it falls far short of an enlightened “action plan.”

There were many points made at the hearing that you should be aware of, and several implications of this bill that are absolutely deserving of our time and interest.

There is no denying that the current system is broken. As Newark Mayor Corey Booker pointed out, “95% of our teachers are being graded as proficient, but only 40% of students receive a similar grade.” Mayor Booker’s observation makes clear that the oft cited performance gap between the cities and suburbs tells only half the story. Not only are our suburban schools outperforming our inner city schools, but it appears that teachers in the inner city are receiving satisfactory evaluation grades in spite of their students’ poor performance. Obviously there are other factors working to suppress student achievement, but if we are to herald our teachers when student performance is above the norm, they must be held accountable when performance falls far short. The new tier system for evaluation will no doubt provide a more accurate assessment of teacher effectiveness.

The issue of teacher retention, currently based on seniority and the principle of LIFO (last in, first out), was the subject of considerable scrutiny. As currently formulated in the bill, LIFO will be eliminated but grandfathered in so as to deflect the concerns and suspicions of the NJEA that the process as currently designed is too political and vulnerable to manipulation. I support the DOE and various administrators’ associations that LIFO should be ended immediately, as long as the bill is improved to create, in the words of NJEA President Ginger Goldschnitzer, a “strong and credible” procedure for evaluating teachers.

In the previous blog I spelled out a host of practical and procedural problems with the evaluation system envisioned in the bill, and several presenters suggested changes to make the system more fair and above reproach. Even the Principals’ Association, whose members evaluations will become the fulcrum for tenure, believe that a hearing would be proper when the issue of tenure is at stake. The NJEA believes that tenure issues resulting from the evaluation process should be handled by an arbitrator whose decision would be binding. And the Newark AFT made the point that if teachers are to be viewed as professionals- an important issue when we talk about attracting the “best and brightest” to education- then the evaluation process should also include peer review, and that this peer review be more than just “window dressing” for the bill; it should be an important component of the final evaluation.

The NJEA, as you might suspect, had the strongest objections to the bill. Their concerns with the “priority pool” and “mutual consent” provisions are legitimate  and should be addressed. They also pointed out the possibility of having a teacher retained year after year but never achieving tenure; the system can in a sense be rigged to keep a teacher from getting tenure in perpetuity. Their position, which I support, is that it should be “all or nothing” when it comes to tenure, otherwise you are creating a very divisive work environment that would vitiate efforts to improve teacher collegiality and effectiveness.

When it comes to the issues of greater accountability and improved effectiveness, the one “job description” that could play a critical part in both outcomes is that of the clinical supervisor. I have used this blog as a soapbox to beg and cajole anyone who will listen that New Jersey must require the hiring of clinical supervisors in every district, and that the overwhelming number of observations conducted in this state be clinical or formative in nature. There must be a person(s) in every district whose ONLY job is to improve the effectiveness of teachers. Every non-tenured and “at risk” teacher in a district must be under the direction of a clinical supervisor. Principals and other administrators just do not have the time to do an effective job providing the support that these teachers need. In my view, the absence of these professionals from this bill makes it nothing more than a political document, not a true reform measure.

Student achievement on standardized test scores will no doubt be an important metric for evaluating teachers, but it was pointed out that only 20% of subject areas are currently tested. I am hopeful that a greater good, that being a complete reworking of our HSPA, might result from this glaring hole in the evaluation process.

Student achievement on standardized test scores will no doubt be an important metric for evaluating teachers, but it was pointed out by several presenters that only 20% of subject areas are currently tested. This fact alone makes the creation of meaningful quantitative metrics to evaluate teachers problematic. I am hopeful that a greater good, that being a complete reworking of our HSPA, might result from this glaring hole in the evaluation process. The current HSPA only tests students in 2 of the 7 categories in the Core Curriculum Content Standards. Moreover, the current HSPA is completely detached from the “real world” content and skills we should be teaching and testing student on. The fact that we require certain content to be taught, but do not make this content part of the test for graduation, is both negligent and farcical.  Maybe an unintended consequence of the legislation will be the DOE revisiting its mandate to test students as a prerequisite for graduation. If so, I could not be happier.

And finally, it is clear to me that this legislation is the first step in the process for bringing performance pay into the system of remuneration we use for our educators. The jury is still out on whether performance pay will be  effective at improving teacher performance, but as a simple matter of fairness, and as a way of attracting “the best and brightest” to teaching, performance pay is an idea whose time has come. The four tiered system of evaluation in this bill provides an excellent foundation to initiate a performance pay scheme. However, it should also be pointed out that a significant body of research suggests that a “career ladder,” as opposed to a merit pay plan, might be a more effective modality for the teaching profession. My suggestion, which I believe is absolutely achievable, is to integrate the two ideas, creating a performance pay scheme that includes a career ladder for those teachers who ascend to the levels of “effective” and “highly effective.”

So in conclusion, Senator Ruiz has created a sound beginning to the creation of a more effective system for improving teacher accountability and effectiveness. As was clear from the testimony of the stakeholders, there is work to be done improving the current formulation of the bill. If all goes well, New Jersey might just end up with not only a great new law, but with a new graduation test and a new system for rewarding exemplary performance in the classroom. This might be wishful thinking, but by now it should be clear that the quality of education being provided to our children in the inner city is an embarrassment,  a disservice to the children, their families, and the businesses in our state that depend on a well-educated, highly skilled workforce. We need to embrace change, but we need to be sure that it is inclusive, with significant input from our teachers. Without their support, change will be slow, uneven, and inadequate.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Senator Ruiz Presents Tenure Bill to Packed Hearing

This past Monday I attended Senator Ruiz’s long anticipated hearing on S1455, the “Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey Act,” otherwise known as TeachNJ. The passion that this bill generates was clear from the start, as supporters and opponents took turns expressing their views on the draft. After a full day of intense listening I came away optimistic that reform is on the horizon, but I was less than sanguine about the bill in its present form.

S1455 is a long overdue and much needed effort to reform the manner in which teachers earn and maintain tenure throughout their career in the classroom, in addition to ending the practice of "last in, first out," or LIFO. It provides a solid foundation from which we can debate and hopefully implement a system of remuneration based on performance-and including a career ladder- rather than years of service. Unfortunately, there are some critical flaws that will make implementation of the plan problematic. The legislation as it is currently written also raises some questions as to the primary motivation for the bill and its ability to meet both of its stated objectives, improving teacher accountability AND effectiveness.

As indicated in the legislations title, the bill is designed to improve teacher effectiveness and hold such educators accountable for the choices and decisions they make to fulfill their responsibilities to our children. However, other than the addition of some supplemental professional development programs for “at risk” tenured teachers, and the implementation of a mentoring program for first year teachers, there is nothing in this bill indicating a desire to actually improve the performance of teachers other than the threat of losing tenure or be possibly transferred. It would be hard for any teacher reading this legislation to come away from it not seeing this as anything but a “gotcha” bill that gives principals enormous leverage in scouring the faculty to remove poor teachers or, possibly, those whose style does not comport with their own. Admittedly, removing poor teachers is a worthy goal, but an equally important goal would be broad improvement of teacher effectiveness; this legislation falls far short of that need.

I am at a loss to understand- as were representatives of the Supervisors Association-  why there is no mention and no participation whatsoever of department supervisors in the observations conducted by the School Improvement Panel. Students are in class to learn both skills and content, and the ability of the teacher to connect the two through the teacher’s lesson plan is critical; department supervisors are much better equipped to understand the goals and intent of the teacher in this regard.  

This leads to my second point.  Each teacher is supposed to receive multiple observations, including one summative evaluation. In summative evaluations the goal of improving teacher effectiveness is secondary- you are really doing nothing more than recording what you see- and so I would like to presume that most or all of the other observations are clinical or formative in nature. To be effective, these observations require a pre and post conference in addition to the actual lesson. These are time consuming and collaborative in nature for the vast majority of teachers. Given the amount of time that administrators invariably spend dealing with superiors at the Board Office, in addition to their other responsibilities, it is inconceivable to me that these observations can be properly planned, implemented, and followed up to yield meaningful professional development.

There is also an issue whether these evaluations will be “drop in” or scheduled observations. Besides the disruption that an observation can create, any teacher will tell you that observations can affect the classroom dynamic. Evaluators obviously don’t want to observe a contrived, “scripted” class lesson, but you also don’t want to “drop in” and create any undue tension or stress for the teacher as well. Remember, the importance of these observations has now been elevated; a teacher’s career is  at stake.

Moreover, I have some concern that this new process, especially when done by administrators other than a department supervisor, will stifle innovation and risk taking on the part of the teacher. Where job security is now the issue, risk averse, conventional lessons will more likely be the norm unless the rubrics show a propensity to reward “entrepreneurial” type behavior by the teacher.

The power this bill gives to principals is substantial, and the fact that his/her decisions cannot be grieved shows almost contempt for the notions of due process and equal protection under the law.  Teachers are currently granted by law the right to a Loudermill Hearing whenever disciplinary action is taken that impacts or removes a teacher’s property right, in this the teacher’s tenure. This bill seems to completely disregard this right. There seems to be a presumption in this bill that the relationship between teachers and administrators is efficient, effective, and harmonious, and that teachers will willingly acquiesce to their decisions. This, quite frankly, requires a real leap of faith.

The bill pairs first year teachers with a mentor, but what about the other years leading up to tenure? I also don’t see why underperforming teachers aren’t also paired with a mentor. Their situation is essentially no different than that of the non-tenured teacher, and in both situations the supposed (putative?) goal is the same, to improve their effectiveness in the classroom.

One of the most moving presentations of the day was made by a young lady,  the parent of two “special needs” children, who noted the lack of specificity in the bill regarding the needs of special education students.  Special education is the fastest growing component of public education, and special education teachers find themselves in a variety of unique teaching/learning environments and structures. Although the bill does provide exclusions for employees whose job description differs from the classroom teacher, guidance counselors for example, I think it is important that, given the unique nature of the job, special education programs be directly addressed .

Charter schools are required to abide by all of the substantive portions of the bill that are relevant to the goal of teacher quality, but I think this legislation could prove onerous for many of these schools, and that there should some flexibility worked into the legislation whereby a charter school can present an “action plan” to abide by the goals of the legislation without following the absolute requisites laid out in the bill. On a side note, I heard several attendees comment on how charter schools, who receive 90% of per pupil costs in the sending district to finance their schools education plan, are shut out from receiving any facilities funding. This is a subject that is clearly connected to teacher effectiveness and deserving of attention.

Improving teacher quality and effectiveness is the single most critical issue facing public education. But, as many presenters pointed out, including the Principals’ Association and the Chamber of Commerce, achieving that goal requires taking a multifaceted approach: we need to attract the “best and the brightest” college graduates, we need to encourage the use of alternate routes into teaching, we need to rethink and redo our core curriculum content standards to reduce what we require kids to learn, we need to replace the existing graduation test with one that reflects the entire school curriculum and is tied to real world needs. And finally, we need to institute an integrated merit pay/career ladder plan to reward our best teachers and encourage disinterested, uninspiring, and generally ineffective teachers to improve their performance. The restructuring of our tenure system is in fact an important step towards creating a viable merit pay/career ladder plan.

Though it does a good job of redesigning the “levels” of effective teaching and tying retention to performance rather than seniority, the legislation before us falls short in its goal of actually improving teacher quality. It is designed more to “catch” bad teachers than to make the occupation more professional and the teachers more effective. What is needed, what MUST be included in this legislation, is a commitment to providing clinical supervision for our teachers. I believe these clinical supervisors should be tied to the evaluation process, but at the very least they should be required on site so teachers can avail themselves of their expertise.

I believe that every high school in New Jersey should be required to have a clinical supervisor on staff, with the primary goal of providing their expertise to all non-tenured or “at risk” teachers at the school. They would also be available so that other teachers can request their assistance in the classroom. In fact the “multiple observations” required by the bill should- in the case of the non-tenured and at risk teachers- be carried out by the clinical supervisor in concert with the principal. This will also help stem any perception of abuse of power by the principal.

There is an obvious lack of teacher or administrator input into the construct of this bill, as anyone with experience in schools will tell you that the members of the School Improvement Panel will find it almost impossible to coordinate their schedules so as to provide fair, comprehensive observations above reproach. Research clearly indicates that “the frequency with which teachers are evaluated and feedback provided is correlated with teachers’ confidence in their supervisor’s evaluation, their satisfaction with their work, and student achievement.”

Other than offering supplemental professional development and a mentoring program for first year teachers, there is nothing in this legislation designed to improve teacher effectiveness other than the threat to job security. This may lead some to see this bill as a cynical approach to our most pressing educational need.

Effective clinical supervision is the key to improving teacher effectiveness. Its absence from this bill is a fatal flaw, as none of the other actors in this drama can offer the time and expertise necessary to provide the training the authors of this legislation claim to want.

Taken in total, this is a bill heavily skewed towards teacher accountability, with only a modest proposal to improve teacher performance. With modifications, especially those ideas offered by the panel presenters the bill is deserving of support. As it is currently written, it should be rejected.