As we head into the final term of the 2020-2021 school year (and kick its butt on the way out the door), policy-makers, school leaders, teachers, parents, and students are hoping for a fresh start in September, especially because the average New Jersey student lost 30% of expected learning in reading and 36% in math. Thus, it’s especially timely that an esteemed organization–the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ)– has just published its state ratings that show us whether New Jersey’s education policies– including preparing, assessing, and paying teachers– adheres to best practices.
After all, parents know that nothing matters more than an effective teacher in the classroom.
The report, “State of the States: 2021 Teacher Quality,” has tons of data that allows you to dip in a toe (read the Executive Summary) or take a deep dive into the State Teacher Policy Database. But let’s stick to New Jersey.
A few highlights from categories where we perform really well:
- We use best practices in providing teacher candidates with a “high-quality clinical experience.”
- We get another gold star for our Cooperating Teacher Requirements, in other words, those who mentor new teachers. NCTQ says, “New Jersey now requires that cooperating teachers be rated as effective or highly effective on his or her most recently received summative evaluation.”
- We’re awesome in ensuring that special education teachers have appropriate content knowledge.
- And we meet almost all goals for requiring that alternate route programs “limit admission to candidates with strong academic backgrounds while also being flexible to the needs of nontraditional candidates.”
But we fall short in many areas, particularly the all-important category of ensuring that elementary school teachers understand the science of literacy. (Note: While there are a variety of reasons why we did poorly, some portion of low scores is tied directly to the dilution of our 2012 teacher evaluation and tenure reform bill called TEACHNJ. In other words, politics, not best practices, dictates the state’s oversight of teacher and principal effectiveness. While NCTQ doesn’t make the connection directly, it’s not hard to see. For more on this, go here.)
- We get a big fat “F” for using an “adequate test” to gauge aspiring teachers’ understanding of how students actually learn to read. The understanding of the science of literacy can “slash the rate of reading failure from three in 10 children to one in 10.” Also, “New Jersey has no requirements for the preparation of elementary teachers [to ensure they] are fully prepared to include literacy skills across the core content areas.” ( Last year NCTQ issued a report on how teacher prep programs in each state prepare teachers in the science of literacy, essential when teaching reading. While nationally 51% of teacher prep programs in early literacy get A’s or B’s, in NJ 50% get F’s. For more, see here.)
- We don’t hold teacher preparation programs “accountable for the quality of the teachers they produce” and we “don’t articulate consequences for programs that fail to meet specific criteria.”
- We use a good test to grade teachers’ content knowledge but that testing is “undermined by the state’s policy of allowing teacher candidates who fail to meet a passing score…to be exempt if their G.P.A. is 3.5 or higher.”
- Same for middle and high school teachers: “New Jersey’s preparation standards and tests for all middle and secondary school teachers do not address the instructional shifts associated with college- and career-readiness standards toward building content knowledge and vocabulary through careful reading of informational and literary texts.”
- And in special education, “New Jersey has no requirements for the preparation of elementary or secondary special education teachers that address struggling readers.”
NCTQ is highly critical of New Jersey’s teacher evaluation system (decimated by Gov. Murphy’s impulse to cave to teacher union pressure; while the 2012 law linked teacher effectiveness ratings to student growth, that link is gone). From the report:
New Jersey does not require that teachers meet student growth goals or be rated at least effective for the student growth portion to earn an overall rating of effective. Teachers of tested grades and subjects can earn the lowest score – a one – on their student growth component and still be rated overall effective, provided that they earn the top score of four on teacher practice. Teachers of nontested grades and subjects can earn the lowest score – a one – on their student growth component and still be rated either overall highly effective or effective, provided that they earn a four or a three, respectively, on teacher practice.
What can New Jersey do to improve its oversight of teacher prep programs and raise the level of classroom instruction? Here are some recommendations from NCTQ:
- Require instructional effectiveness to be a determinative criterion of any teacher evaluation.
Although New Jersey requires that objective evidence of student growth be included in a substantial way in a teacher’s evaluation rating, it does not play a profound role in a teacher’s overall evaluation rating. New Jersey should ensure that a teacher is not able to earn an overall rating of effective if he or she is rated less-than-effective at increasing student growth.
- Give teachers “additional compensation” based on “evidence of effectiveness” (i.e., implement some system of merit pay”.
- Discourage the current practice of tying increased compensation to advanced degrees or years served but integrate cost of living adjustments:
While still leaving districts the flexibility to establish their own pay scale, New Jersey should articulate policies that definitively discourage districts from tying compensation to advanced degrees, in light of the extensive research showing that such degrees generally do not have an impact on teacher effectiveness. Similarly, New Jersey should articulate policies that discourage districts from determining the highest steps on the pay scale solely by seniority. Further, although the state may find it appropriate to articulate the minimum starting salary that a teacher may be paid, New Jersey should adjust its base pay requirements according to changes in the state’s cost of living at least every three years.
- Offer higher pay for harder-to-fill positions and for teaching in “high-need schools”: “New Jersey should encourage districts to link compensation to district needs.”
- Support a performance pay plan that recognizes teachers for their effectiveness. (In other words, reinstate the regulations from our 2012 law.)
Whether it implements the plan at the state or local level, New Jersey should ensure that performance pay structures thoughtfully measure classroom performance and connect student growth to teacher effectiveness. Districts should be given the flexibility to define the criteria for performance pay provided that such criteria connect to objective evidence of student growth. The plan must be developed with careful consideration of available data and subsequent issues of fairness and it should allow for the participation of all teachers, not only those in tested grades and subjects.
- Give school leaders the authority to make lay-off decisions based on teacher effectiveness instead of just seniority:
Require that districts consider teacher effectiveness as the most important factor in determining which teachers are laid off during reductions in force.
New Jersey should give districts the flexibility to determine their own layoff policies, but it should do so within a framework that ensures that teacher effectiveness is the determinative factor. Further, although it may be useful for New Jersey to consider seniority among other criteria, the state should also consider performance so that it does not sacrifice effective teachers while maintaining low performers.
- And allow districts to give teachers more money if they have “relevant prior work experience”: “While still leaving districts with the flexibility to determine their own pay scales, New Jersey should encourage districts to incorporate mechanisms such as starting these teachers at a higher salary than other new teachers. Such policies would be attractive to career changers with related work experience, such as in the STEM subjects.”
New Jersey just got its grades. Now it’s time for the Legisture, the State Department of Education, and Gov. Murphy to pay heed to our deficits and do right by our famllies, teachers, and school districts.