Teachers React Cautiously to Christie's Tenure Reform Plan

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Office of the Governor
    New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called for reform of the state's teacher tenure procedures Thursday, putting forth a plan that would evaluate teachers on both classroom performance and student achievement.

    Christie told the Brookings Institute there is need to reform evaluation procedures for roughly 150,000 school teachers in the state.

    The plan drew cautious interest from teachers at one elementary school in Elizabeth, N.J.

    "Is there a change needed? Absolutely," said Patty Brady, who has 18 years of teaching under her belt and currently instructs 2nd graders at Msgr. Joao Antao Elementary School in the Elizabeth public school system.

    But she is not sure how much credit to give to Christie's plan.

    As he explained it, if a teacher is graded 'highly inefficient' for two years in a row, that teacher would be placed on probation for the third year.

    Failure to improve during the third year would result in automatic firing.

    As far as deciding what is "highly inefficient," Gov. Christie said half would be based on students' test scores and grades and half on their 'craft' in the classroom, as judged by the principal and their peers.

    "I know he said half and half," said a dubious Lisa Rafoa, who has been teaching 12 years, "but I know test scores always seem to be a big part of the basis."

    "What is the reform and how is it going to be done?" asked fellow teacher Brady, who said she didn't have enough detail from the plan to make a fair evaluation.

    Their principal, Michael Webb, was more enthusiastic.

    He also would be graded along similar lines as his teachers.

    "I think if I'm going to ask my teachers to live with it, I have to step up  and also be part of that," Webb said.

    Statewide, Christie said only 17 teachers have been fired over the past 10 years.

    "It defies common sense. It makes lawyers and doctors look robust in policing themselves," Christie complained.

    In Elizabeth, the fourth largest city in the state, a school spokesman said roughly 12 teachers are on administrative leave because it is so hard to fire them.

    "Chris Christie is a courageous Governor and an excellent leader as he has been able to move the discussion forward on how to reform public education," said Superintendent Pablo Munoz.

    In his speech, Christie also had harsh words for the state's largest teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association. Christie called the group "a monied special interest that bullies and thugs its way through the hallways of my Statehouse to get whatever it wants,"

    The NJEA called Christie's plan an "educational disaster."

    "The amount of time he spends name calling, they're trying to distract attention from what they're doing," Baker said.

    He added, "The governor continues to pursue a plan that calls for a massive extension of standardized testing," a policy he argued had been discredited in the wake of the Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind law.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY