Every time a proposal to reform the hiring and firing of teachers is put forward in California, it's just as complicated and, in ways, as counterproductive as the current system. Ousting teachers here is ruinously protracted and expensive and, ultimately, nearly impossible. Legislation to fix this regularly fails, in part because the bills aren't well conceived, but mostly because of opposition from the California Teachers Assn. and reluctance by Democratic politicians who rely on the union for support. Yet just this week, the state of New Jersey proved that it doesn't have to be difficult to be fair to teachers while weeding the ineffective ones from the classroom.
Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation Monday that lengthens the time a teacher must work before receiving tenure from three years to four. It also makes that probationary period more meaningful by requiring a year of working with a mentor and two years of satisfactory evaluations before tenure can be granted. If a school wants to fire a low-performing teacher who already has tenure, it must first try to help the teacher improve. If the teacher challenges the termination, the case is submitted to binding arbitration. Teachers are given a little more than three months to contest a firing, and the cost, which is paid by the state, cannot exceed $7,500. Efforts to terminate teachers must be based on comprehensive and regular performance evaluations.