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11-10-14 Feds Grant DOE Waiver Request For One Year More...Teacher Tenure Case

Star Ledger -Newark forced to rehire tenured teacher despite new state law

By Naomi Nix | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com The Star-Ledger
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on November 10, 2014 at 7:00 AM, updated November 10, 2014 at 9:58 AM

NEWARK — A state-appointed arbitrator ordered Newark Public Schools last month to rehire a teacher the district tried to fire under New Jersey's revised tenure legislation.

Stephen Bluth ruled that the district could not revoke Sandra Cheatham's tenure protections on the basis of a negative teacher evaluation from the 2012-2013 school year because TeachNJ— the state's revised teacher tenure law — was not in effect at the start of the school year.

"The 2012-13 school year was essentially an experimental one that would produce an evaluation system for 2013-14," Bluth wrote in an opinion dated Oct. 16, 2014.

Under Teach NJ, which Gov. Chris Christie signed into law in August 2012, school districts were required to develop a four-point teacher rating system, which included highly effective, effective, partially effective and ineffective categories.

Two consecutive years of a partially effective or ineffective rating would strip a tenured teacher of his or her job protection and allow the district to fire the teacher. In addition to tenure charge for inefficiency, school districts may issue a teacher tenure charge for conduct unbecoming of an education.

But the law also gave teachers up to 15 days to respond to a tenure charge, after which the state's education commissioner may refer the case to a state arbitrator.

In the Cheatham case, Newark Public Schools argued that it had already developed a "pilot" teacher evaluation system during the 2011-2012, and therefore its 2012-2013 evaluation should be counted.

Additionally, the district said the state approved its evaluation system for the 2012-2013 school year.

But Cheatham argued that the 2012-2013 evaluation system did not fulfill all state requirements, including lacking a school improvement panel to oversee the district's mentoring program.

Additionally, the state advised school district that the 2012-2013 school year was supposed to function as a pilot year to test its evaluation system, Cheatham argued.

Bluth agreed with Cheatham.

“The arbitrator was very clear,” said John Abeigon, director of operations of the Newark Teachers Union. “You can’t just make up the rules as you go along.”

Under the ruling, Newark Public Schools will pay any back pay she missed as a result of the tenure charge. The school district said in a statement it was currently working with Cheatham to obtain a "mutually agreed upon outcome."

But the Cheatham ruling could impact dozens of other teachers in a similar predicament, say some experts.

“Legally it’s not binding,” Cheatham's lawyer Collin Lynch, said of Bluth's ruling. “But we believe it presents strong persuasive authority with other arbitrators.”

But Newark Public Schools rejected that argument.

"The Cheatham case represented a decision by one arbitrator. The district feels confident that we will prevail in the other cases," the school system said in a statement.

The Newark school system plans to serve more than 90 tenure charges to teachers from the 2013-2014 school year, including almost 70 for inefficiency alone.

Of the teachers already served tenure charges, 45 have opted to leave the district, while 20 cases are now waiting to be resolved through arbitration, according to the district.

Even if other arbitrators agree with Bluth on pending cases, the argument that the district moved prematurely won't hold up at the end of this school year.

“The argument on that end is only going to apply for this round of charges,” Lynch said. "If new charges come this spring this would not longer apply."

And local teachers unions are already preparing to examine any tenure charges issued this school year, to make sure school districts are following proper protocol.

“We pay close attention to whether the law is being followed,” said Steve Bakers, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union.

“We’re prepared to challenge anything that appears to be a misuse of the evaluation system.”

NJ Spotlight -  New Jersey Receives One-Year Extension of ‘No Child Left Behind Act’ Waiver…But feds say state must fine-tune its system for intervening in certain low-achieving schools

John Mooney | November 10, 2014


New Jersey has won approval from the Obama administration to extend its new accountability system for intervening in the lowest-achieving schools.

While the approval was never much in doubt, state officials still have some work to do if they plan to seek another one-year federal waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the 2001 law that includes strict student-achievement requirements for all schools, including that they show 100 percent proficiency by this year.

Related Links

NJ Waiver Application

NJ Waiver Request Letter

Federal Approval of Waiver Request

New Jersey had instead instituted a new system of interventions in so-called “priority” schools that show the lowest achievement levels overall and in “focus” schools with the widest achievement gaps.

The state was one of 34 states seeking such extensions of their federal waivers. All but two of the waiver requests were approved.

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Education announced that it had granted the extension, saying New Jersey had met the criteria in two of three key areas.

“This is good news for New Jersey, and it’s a tribute to exemplary efforts by every educator in the state,” said acting state Education Commissioner David Hespe in a statement.

“The U.S. Department of Education’s announcement noted that that New Jersey not only met the goals contained in our waiver, but in some instances we had exceeded them. This will allow us to intensify our efforts to improve education for the children who need it most.”

It was not a blanket approval. The letter gave special credit to the state for its development of a model curriculum for low-performing schools, and praised its development of “student growth objectives” for teachers serving students in non-tested grades and subjects.

But the one area that the department said still needs to be resolved is how the state intervenes in so-called Title I schools that did not fall into either the “focus” or “priority” categories.

Title I schools are defined as those with high concentrations of low-income students, Such schools receive federal Title I funding.

The approval letter said that if New Jersey applies for an extension next year, it will have to show how it had moved to deal with schools that had not met student achievement or graduation rate targets.

New Jersey is among a vast majority of states that continue to move away from the strictures of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.

“New Jersey’s waiver application followed the guidelines of the U.S. Department of Education and the precedent of other states in revamping their accountability system,” said Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor at Drew University and an expert on federal education policy.

“The state will now stop using NCLB's system that had labeled large numbers of schools across the state as ‘in need of improvement’ and will focus instead on academic growth instead of minimum proficiency and target resources and interventions on the worst performing schools,” McGuinn added.


The Record - NJ’s waiver on education law extended another year

November 8, 2014    Last updated: Saturday, November 8, 2014, 1:21 AM



The Record

The U.S. Department of Education has given New Jersey a one-year extension of a waiver that will free the state from some requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, officials said Friday.

The extension means that New Jersey can continue efforts to improve student performance that go beyond the education act, such as the use of student growth objectives to measure how teachers are performing in classes that don't have state tests.

The flexibility granted to the state so far "has been effective in enabling New Jersey to carry out important reforms to improve student achievement," federal officials wrote in a letter to David Hespe, New Jersey's acting education commissioner.

But New Jersey still has to address how it will help Title 1 schools, which have large concentrations of low-income students, that have not met graduation rate targets, officials wrote.

The extension will last through the 2014-15 school year. Forty-three states, as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, have waivers from the federal law.

No Child Left Behind, signed into law by former President George W. Bush, requires all students to be proficient in math and reading, a mandate that many educators have called unrealistic and unfair.

President Obama announced in September 2011 that the administration would grant waivers to states that showed better plans to measure student growth, fix troubled schools and close achievement gaps.

Hespe said Friday that the extension was good news for the state.

"The U.S. Department of Education's announcement noted that New Jersey not only met the goals contained in our waiver, but in some instances we had exceeded them," he said. "This will allow us to intensify our efforts to improve education for the children who need it most."