N.J. Governor Chris Christie Signs Teacher Tenure Reform Law

Governor Chris Christie

Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) signed a bill Monday making it more difficult for teachers to receive tenure.

The bill, though hotly debated in New Jersey’s legislature, was a rare example of bipartisanship:

Gov. Chris Christie today signed a contentious bill aimed at toughening the path to tenure for the state’s public school teachers, hailing it as a rare sign of bipartisanship.

Christie acknowledged the crucial role the teachers’ unions played in getting the bill passed, and he thanked them.

“The fact of that matter is nothing gets done without their input, support and their help,” he said. “I know it’s not everything they wanted to have happen, and it wasn’t everything that I wanted to have happen.”

Teachers will have to wait at least four years instead of three — and they will have to earn consistently good grades — to gain tenure. Conversely, they can face firing of they get poor evaluations.

However, seniority still has its privileges under the law. New Jersey continues to be one of only 11 states with a last-in, first-out policy for teachers in the event of layoffs.

Christie wanted to eliminate those protections, but agreed to the compromise, which was embraced by the teachers’ union.

“This is indeed a historic day,” Christopher Cerf, the state education commissioner, said. “It proves education reform need not be a partisan issue.

In addition to the longer time required before receiving tenure, any N.J. teacher could be replaced after two years of negative reviews. New teachers would need to complete a one-year mentorship program and would have to receive two out of three years of positive reviews under a new evaluation system that takes student achievement into account. More on what the new tenure system requires can be found in this article.

The fact that teachers’ unions and school reformers came together to hammer out a compromise is promising. Many states award teacher tenure after only a one or two year probationary period. Tenure can make it very difficult for low-performing teachers to be replaced by schools, even if it would be in the best interest of students. In addition, many states require little or no merit-based achievements to receive tenure, just time on the job.

To be clear, this is undoubtedly a small victory for school reformers. Nevertheless, it’s a victory. As this bill impacts teachers and students over the next few years, hopefully it will turn out to be another small step toward closing the enormous achievement gap separating our nation’s low-income and more affluent students.

Alex Hunt

About Alex Hunt

Alex Hunt is a former Yale & Irene Rosenberg Graduate Fellow at the Center for Children, Law & Policy. Alex graduated from the University of Texas in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in government. Before entering law school, he taught middle school math at YES Prep Southwest in Houston with Teach For America. In 2010, he received New Leaders' EPIC Spotlight Teacher Award, a national award for teachers with outstanding student growth. Alex graduated cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in May 2013. During law school, Alex was Casenotes & Comments Editor for the Houston Journal of International Law, interned for both state and federal judges, and served as Vice President of the Health Law Organization (HLO). In addition, Alex has received the Irving J. Weiner Memorial Scholarship Award (for a year of outstanding work in the UH Law Center Legal Clinic), the Napoleon Beazley Defender Award (for outstanding work on behalf of children), the Ann Dinsmore Forman Memorial Child Advocacy Award, the Mont P. Hoyt Memorial Writing Award for an Outstanding Comment on a Topic in International Law, and he was a finalist for Texas Access to Justice's Law Student Pro Bono Award. Alex is currently in private family law practice with the Hunt Law Firm, P.L.L.C. in Katy, Texas.

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