"Negligent" Teacher Retention

The Star-Ledger discusses NJ’s “landmark” tenure reform bill passed earlier this year which “enjoyed near-universal support,” but notes that “there is also a consensus among leading Democrats and Republicans that it doesn’t go far enough for inner-city schools.”

Tough luck. From The Ledger: “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.”

This grieving among “leading Democrats and Republicans” is based on an expeditious, last-minute compromise that deleted the part of the bill that would end seniority-based lay-offs (LIFO) to the grave disappointment of proponents of ed reform, including New Jersey School Boards Association. That deletion didn’t gut the bill – core elements remain, including making tenure conditional on continued performance and incorporating student growth into evaluations – and that midnight concession brought NJEA to the signing table. The Senate passed the bill, but left in the part that continues the practice of "negligent retention," or, when lay-offs necessitate reduction in staff,  retaining teachers based on years served rather than continued effective instruction.

At the time, Sen. Teresa Ruiz, architect of the bill, promised supporters that she would address LIFO in future bills,  and Sen. Joe Kyrillos has proffered a bill that would end seniority-based lay-offs. Either way, absent momentum, ending LIFO is a long-shot.

The Ledger’s reference to inner city schools is fair. A new report, “The Irreplaceables,” from TNTP, studied 90,000 teachers across four large geographic areas in the U.S. and found this:
Current retention patterns lock our lowest achieving schools into a cycle of failure, keeping them from ever having enough good or great teachers to improve. Our analysis shows that struggling schools can reach an average teacher composition after three to four years of smart retention practices, but may never do so under a pattern of negligent retention.
We need to pay great teachers more, especially if they’re willing to work in NJ’s poor urban districts, and we need to protect them during lay-offs, regardless of seniority. That's smart, not negligent.

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