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In New Jersey, a year makes quite a difference (take two)

By Kathleen Nugent, DFER NJ State Director

Last year at this time, I wrote a blog post reflecting on 2011 and the gains we made in education reform in New Jersey. They included a strong legislative push for tenure reform and the placement of key leaders with the hiring of Chris Cerf as New Jersey Commissioner of Education and the appointment of Cami Anderson as Superintendent of Newark Public Schools. 2012 proved to be yet another progressive year for education in the state.

Here are some of 2012’s key developments, many building from the previous year’s achievements:

  • Tenure reform: In late spring, state Senator Teresa Ruiz’s tenure reform bill known as TEACHNJ passed by a remarkable unanimous vote. Governor Christie then signed it into law. Going forward, both the acquisition and ongoing retention of tenure will be tied to demonstrated effectiveness in the classroom, professional development will be tailored to individual needs, and the process of tenure removal will be quick and less costly.
  • Evaluations: A new teacher and administrator evaluation system was launched in pilot form and codified in TEACHNJ. With 30 or so districts now building the system at the ground level and practitioners helping create the roadmap for the state, starting next year all teachers and administrators will be supported by an evaluation system that will help highlight strengths, identify weaknesses, and provide support to educators’ areas of need. Ratings will be four-tiered: highly effective, effective, partially effective, and ineffective.
  • Newark Teacher’s Contract: In mid-November, the Newark Teachers Union voted to approve a new contract that includes a merit pay system supported by peer evaluation and student performance metrics. Setting a precedent for New Jersey, for the first time teachers must demonstrate impact in the classroom to earn an increase in pay. An additional key provision and real win for equity was the putting in place of incentives to ensure the best teachers work in the most underperforming schools. Ultimately, the contract should help retain the district’s most effective educators, a key to long-term student achievement success. It was a significant step forward for Newark Public Schools and Superintendent Cami Anderson.
  • Public Charters: The New Jersey Department of Education’s public charter school office announced a redesigned approval process with performance frameworks for new and existing schools as well as new regulations to increase accountability and transparency in the state’s charter sector. In the fall, CREDO issued a report on the performance of New Jersey’s charter sector noting that overall the state’s charters outperform traditional NJ public schools. The highlight of the study was the charter sector in Newark, which boasts some of the highest achievement gains in the country. Students in Newark’s charters on average gained the equivalent of an additional seven to nine months of learning each year.

With 2013’s gubernatorial and legislative elections looming with primaries in June and the general election in November, there are questions around what is possible in education reform for the New Year. Nevertheless, New Jersey’s education reform momentum continues and with many of the same key leaders in place, 2013 should not disappoint.

Prior to joining DFER in February 2010, Kathleen Nugent supported the growth of TEAM Charter Schools, the region of KIPP schools in Newark, New Jersey, for almost two years in their development department. Before TEAM, Kathleen worked at The MCJ Amelior Foundation for five years. Read more about Kathleen here.