NJEA Tenure “Reforms” are Laughable at Best

New Jersey’s largest teacher’s union is attempting to right itself in the eyes of the New Jersey taxpayer. After budgets across the state were shot down and approval ratings for the union in the state reached dramatic lows over the last few years, the NJEA certainly has a lot of work to do.

Their current strategy seems to be to paint the union as some sort of agent of change to the money pit of a system that we know as New Jersey public schools. One long hated “sacred cow” of education in this country has been the concept of tenure, which essentially makes it impossible to fire a teacher for, well, anything. Some states have it worse than others, with New York probably being the worst on the east coast. According to the NJEA, the problem is not the concept of tenure or even the standards to which teachers are held, but the time that it takes.

The proposed “reform” of tenure is simply to keep the practice exactly as it is, but to put the due process procedures to actually get rid of a teacher into the hands of an arbitrator rather than a law division judge in the state court system. The union claims that this change could possibly cut the time it takes to go through the tenure process form 6 months or a year to three months. The result being that administrative costs are saved and the court system is somewhat cleared of the rare occurrence that a tenure proceeding even makes it to a judge.

Are they kidding? Does the NJEA think we are stupid? Most of us went to the very public schools that they tout as the best in the nation, so to insult our intelligence seems counterintuitive to their argument for their very existence (they think NJ’s schools are of a high quality precisely because the union exists. Ha.)

This is not a reform of tenure, this is an opportunity to grab a headline and put out a press release to make the NJEA look as though it is actually doing something. The standards for tenure in New Jersey are pretty straightforward – inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming and other just cause – that is how you get a tenure proceeding filed against you as a teacher. Does anyone see anything wrong with the obvious ambiguities of this standard? The NJEA claims that the standard is wonderful and that they would not remotely consider modifying it in any way. This gives no guidance to administration in the school districts for when a tenure proceeding should commence. These people are not lawyers and they certainly are not judges. All they know is that tenure proceedings are prohibitively expensive, which is exactly how the NJEA likes it to be. The higher the cost, the less likely it will be for a member to be taken to court unless they do something terribly illegal and terribly public (ie. it can’t be swept under the rug).

The other issue is the amount of time it takes to reach tenure. The probationary period under which a teacher can be fired presumably without one of the above causes is three years. So after three years, if you don’t screw up, you have a job for life. Let me repeat that: A JOB FOR LIFE! Along with all the wondrous benefits given by the New Jersey taxpayer. Want to reform the system, NJEA? Start by making this longer. Three years to prove yourself as an “efficient” (again, without actually defining efficient) teacher and then you get a pass until retirement? I realize this directly benefits teachers, but I have a feeling that many of them even find this to be absurd. Most of the “inefficient” teachers I had growing up were certainly past their three year mark, so how is this an effective probationary period?

As per usual, Governor Christie’s spokesman, Michael Drewniak, was right on point,

“Real reform that puts quality education for every New Jersey student as our only priority requires complete reexamination of the tenure system. There is more to the broken tenure system than just the amount of time it takes to remove a bad teacher.”

If the NJEA is going to recommend reforms, they should at least make a good faith effort at looking into what the actual problems are. Rather than spending millions of dollars from their members dues to fund attack ads against the governor and hold press conferences that can only be described as farcical, they should put together a panel and really work on studying what would be best for their members and New Jersey school children. Tenure doesn’t help the kids. Tenure will not raise graduation rates. Tenure will not lower property tax hikes based on out of control school budget costs.

An NJEA spokesman was quoted at the press conference,

“If anyone including the governor is interested in truly seeing education reforms take hold in our state than there has to be a dialog. We are just waiting for that to begin.”

For once they couldn’t be more right. Now if they would only bring something to the table worth discussing.