Sunday, November 3, 2013

On Tenure Reform, NJEA Does a Disservice to Its Members

I just got done listening to an NJEA radio commercial touting the merits of the State's new tenure reform measure, and I almost got sick to my stomach. Don't get me wrong I'm a strong proponent for teacher reform in New Jersey- I probably have ideas that would be considered much more radical- but this legislation is not good for NJEA members or, more importantly, the goal of improving the quality of instruction in the State.

The legislation is heavily tilted towards teacher accountability at the expense of teacher performance; the idea seems to be that teachers will simply become better if you hold their feet to the fire. As a host of articles evaluating teachers in other countries shows, the percentage of time teachers spend in the classroom rather than on professional development and other ancillary responsibilities is a critical variable, and of course in this country we spend much more time in the classroom. That issue was not considered.

Leaving aside the question of whether these models are even a fair way of evaluating teachers, there is enough to dislike about the legislation.

Compounding the aforementioned heavy class load is the amount of paperwork demanded by the metrics used by districts to "demonstrate" performance, which leads to the scoring system that I guess denotes accountability. The opportunity cost of the paperwork required by these "Models" is ridiculous and fails the needs of both teachers and students.

Moreover, the stress level created by these models and by the whole process has put an unbearable strain on many, many teachers, which has soured the atmosphere and culture of learning in schools. The stress and pressure to meet the scores of standards in these models (the least amount I believe is the 76 areas of evaluation in the Danielson model) is going to lead to risk averse decision making in the area of curriculum, a further disservice to learning.

The heavy volume of paperwork will create a time lag between completing the work and receiving the final evaluation, which somewhat minimizes the value of the "input" the administrators are supposedly making,

The volume of paperwork will also force many administrators to cut corners, which compromises the integrity of the process.

Let's face it, chances are that a very small percentage of teachers will be found incompetent to teach; for a variety of reasons there is actually more pressure to find teachers acceptable than unacceptable.

And if per chance a lot of teachers are removed, where is this large pool of replacement coming from? As I've heard from many teachers, they now are of an attitude where they would dissuade people from going into education. It is already hard to find college students in specialized fields to entice into teaching rather than the private sector, and this certainly isn't going to help.

The lack of "ownership" by teachers for this legislation was, from the start, a fatal mistake, and for the NJEA not to demand not just one seat but many seats "at the table" as this legislation was being conceived is unconscionable. It's as if the NJEA leadership doesn't understand the state of mind of its own members.

I could go on, but the point is clear. This legislation was not designed to improve teacher performance other than tangentially. This  is a "seek and destroy" mission meant to root out failing teachers. The irony is that, with proper supervision, support, incentives, and encouragement for risk taking, most people- if properly placed in courses- can become successful teachers.

The existence of this legislation means that it is unlikely we will see legislation designed to actually improve teacher performance for many years to come, if at all. The next step is clearly to turn this existing legislation into one that allows for merit pay.

The NJEA is leading its members down a dangerous path. The problem is that they don't have to travel down that road with

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