As 38th District legislators, Senator Bob Gordon, Assemblyman Tim Eustace and myself recently formed a Public Education Advisory Committee consisting of administrators, supervisors, teachers, board of education members and parents.
The purpose of this committee is to discuss the important educational issues which face the state of New Jersey. The agenda of the first meeting focused on teacher evaluations and their impact on earning tenure.
What we found most interesting was the unanimous agreement that the current evaluation and tenure situation in our school system is broken.
What we also found most interesting was that participants representing different roles in education could come together to offer creative solutions to the problem. If change is to occur, it must be change from the grassroots up. Change must occur from educators and not from government officials.
The climate in schools today has become extraordinarily stressful for everyone involved whether it is administrators, teachers or students. Change needs to occur from a positive prospective and not be punitive in nature and with change must come trust. A one solution for all does not work.
New Jersey has achieved outstanding educational results and is ranked in the top of the nation but we all know that there are pockets of success and pockets of failure. What works in one district may not work in another district. Let us also face the real facts that the pockets of failure are rooted in communities riddled with poverty. We need to seriously look at why some communities are so successful and we need to also take a look a look at other countries successes before we jump into policies which may do more damage in the long run. Change is good if it is based on proven results and practices.
A good portion of the meeting focused on testing and its place in the curriculum. All agreed that testing is an important vehicle for modifying curriculum but it should not be seen as a judgment tool for teachers and students.
To have 50% of evaluations based on testing results was seen as absolutely deplorable and unreasonable. Administrators freely admitted that they often placed the very best of teachers with the students who academically struggled and the result was a demoralized teacher whose students did not improve to the level that the teacher had expected.
Smaller class size could easily have been the solution especially in the early grades. Once again, take a look at the successful countries such as Finland whose educational policies are not focused on testing but rather focused on the student.
For meaningful evaluations to take place there must be a strengthening of educational supervision programs on the Master’s level. A certificate in supervision is no longer acceptable. In addition, the school officials must be given the time to supervise the teachers and teachers must be given the time to work collaboratively across grades to focus on the academic needs of the students.
As for tenure, all agreed that an underperforming teacher should be encouraged to improve and if improvement does not occur, the tenure charges process needs to be shortened.
With the discussion of tenure came the serious discussion of ethics, politics and education and our students. We can do better and we must do better but we need to give those whose craft is education the tools to succeed so that our children will grow to be our future professionals: our doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, carpenters, scientists.
We must relieve the schools of useless mandates. As we place more and more mandates upon the schools, we take precious time away from developing curriculum and successful teaching techniques. We must ask our schools to raise the bar of academics. We must focus on teaching the appropriate curriculum at the appropriate stage of a child’s development. Teachers and administrators have their work cut out for them but so do the parents.
What happened that night was inspirational whereby each one left the meeting feeling empowered. Let us empower the educators in the field to do the work of building a spectacular public school educational system; one that goes to its rightful place of being number one in the world.
It is my hope that this meeting will be duplicated in every legislative district. Let the discussion begin and let change occur from the bottom up.
- Assemblywoman Connie Wagner, District 38