NJ Launching Tougher Teacher Evaluations

WOODLAND PARK, N.J. (AP) -

After years of pressure from sources as varied as President Obama and Governor Christie, teachers in New Jersey will face more stringent evaluations than ever when schools open in the coming days.

The push to improve teacher quality through tougher evaluations has intensified across the country in response to widespread concern that too many American students lag far behind their competitors abroad.

If all goes as Trenton officials intend, school administrators will spend more time in classrooms checking how well their teachers engage students and prod them to think analytically. Teachers will also be judged by their students’ progress — not just on academic tests, but also in tasks like singing scales in music and doing sit-ups in gym.

Both Obama and Christie have expressed faith that changing the “drive-by” evaluations of the past, which blessed nearly everyone with a good rating, will create pressure for better instruction.

Many teachers, however, are leery. Their unions across the country have been adamant in arguing that one linchpin of new evaluations in many states — using test scores to isolate a teacher’s impact on students’ growth — has serious flaws in methodology. And many principals, who face more rigorous reviews themselves, wonder how they will find time to orchestrate more frequent, time-consuming classroom observations.

But like it or not, the New Jersey tenure law passed a year ago means these new evaluations will be more consequential because earning tenure and keeping it will be tied to getting good ratings.

Newark has gone a step further; a contract signed last year gives teachers raises only if they are rated “effective” or “highly effective,” replacing automatic bumps for longevity. For the first time, 190 Newark teachers who got the best reviews or took on particularly hard jobs got bonuses last month worth $2,500 to $12,500. Paterson Superintendent Donnie W. Evans says he wants to start paying employees according to their performance as well, but the city teachers union is vehemently opposed.