As you all no doubt know by now, Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson has submitted a waiver to the NJ Department of Education to allow her to bypass current tenure law and use teacher effectiveness as a factor during pending lay-offs. NJ’s 2012 tenure reform bill allows districts to fire teachers with two consecutive years of ineffective teaching, but Anderson says that process, still time-consuming and expensive, will interfere with Newark's immediate need to reduce staff.
In her waiver application (linked to in this Spotlight piece) she explains that the decline in Newark’s traditional public school enrollment (about 80,000 students in the 1970’s down to today's 40,000 students) and a budget gap of over $100 million over the next three years necessitates immediate widespread layoffs of about 1,000 teachers out of the current corps of 3,800. If she can't use classroom effectiveness as a factor, the district will lose some of its best teachers.
From Anderson’s waiver proposal to the DOE:
[This] is the only way NPS can address its fiscal issues without sacrificing teacher quality. Layoffs based on teacher quality lessen the impact of teacher reductions and allow us to maintain our fierce commitment to quality instruction. If granted, the equivalency allows us to make quality-based layoff decisions, meaning that ineffective teachers would be laid off first. Under this approach, we would be able to keep most of our teachers who have been rated effective and all teachers who have been rated highly effective. This means hundreds more students each year will have an opportunity to learn from a great teacher who can put them on the path to success in college and career.
It seems unlikely to me that the DOE will approve her request, given the hearty opposition from, well, everyone. Joseph Del Grosso, head of the Newark Teachers Union, gave the Star Ledger a fact-free explanation: “It’s being done because she created a shortfall in the budget by hiring her friends and by overspending on consultants and legal fees, and now she needs a way out." Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), architect of the 2012 tenure reform law, told NJ Spotlight, “This undermines all the work we did. There are severe questions to the legality of this, let alone whether it will even happen.”
In short, NPS must address its fiscal crisis while increasing teacher quality. The only way to do this is to be granted an equivalency to right size with quality alongside years of service in order to remain competitive and offer quality schooling options for all Newark families.
So what’s up with Anderson’s waiver request?
A couple of political considerations:
- NJ Education Commissioner Chris Cerf’s pending departure to the rosier climes of the private sector offers him the freedom to approve Anderson’s request without regard for fallout. Cerf’s a foe of LIFO and has no stake in future political consequences. He can take the hill without dying on it.
- On the other hand, the Christie Administration could delegate waiver approval to Cerf’s yet-to-be-announced replacement. In that case it seems unlikely that a newbie would choose to begin his or her term by alienating teacher union leadership, not to mention Sen. Ruiz, Chair of the Senate Education Committee.
One other note: according to the waiver proposal, Newark currently deploys its own “Rubber Room,” called “Educators Without Placement Sites.” Currently 159 teachers receive full pay and benefits without actually having classroom responsibilities because no principal will take them. 79% of these teachers have been in the Rubber Room for 2 or 3 years. If Newark is forced to lay-off teachers through the quality-blind system, 89% of these teachers will stay on payroll, displacing 159 effective teachers. That's not an argument for Anderson's waiver which is, to say the least, oddly-timed. It's just a fact.
- Anderson’s waiver request, within the context of massive public disapprobation and a mayoral race that pivots on anti-Anderson sentiments (like opposition to her One Newark plan), might be a hill she is choosing to die on. I doubt I’m the first to wonder if she’s a short-timer; even mayoral-hopeful Shavar Jeffries, a true education reformer, is piling on. She may be too damaged to carry on efforts to resize Newark’s obese infrastructure and ameliorate decades of academic failure. A depressing prospect to be sure: according to her waiver, quality-blind lay-offs “would have a catastrophic impact on student achievement and the district’s ability to be on path to excellence and retaining families."
Labels: Cerf, DOE, LIFO, Newark, tenure