Dismissal for Poor Performance: New Jersey

2011 Exiting Ineffective Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should articulate that ineffective classroom performance is grounds for dismissal and ensure that the process for terminating ineffective teachers is expedient and fair to all parties.

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Dismissal for Poor Performance: New Jersey results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/NJ-Dismissal-for-Poor-Performance-10

Analysis of New Jersey's policies

In New Jersey, tenured teachers who are dismissed have multiple opportunities to appeal. After receiving notice of dismissal, teachers have 15 days to respond, unless given an extension for good cause. The commissioner then has 15 days to determine whether or not the charges warrant dismissal. If so, the commissioner refers the case to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing, However, the state does not articulate a time frame for these proceedings except to say that a decision must be given within 60 days of the hearing's end. It appears that teachers may file a second appeal that would proceed according to the rules in the Administrative Procedure Act.

New Jersey does not explicitly make teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal, nor does the state distinguish the due process rights of teachers dismissed for ineffective performance from those facing other charges commonly associated with license revocation, such as a felony and/or morality violations. The process is the same regardless of the grounds for cancellation, which include "inefficiency, incapacity, conduct unbecoming a teacher or other just cause."

Citation

Recommendations for New Jersey

Specify that classroom ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.
Euphemistic terms such as "inefficiency" are ambiguous at best and may be interpreted as concerning dereliction of duty rather than ineffectiveness. New Jersey should explicitly make teacher ineffectiveness grounds for dismissal so that districts do not feel they lack the legal basis for terminating consistently poor performers.

Ensure that teachers terminated for poor performance have the opportunity to appeal within a reasonable time frame.
Nonprobationary teachers who are dismissed for any grounds, including ineffectiveness, are entitled to due process. However, cases that drag on for years drain resources from school districts and create a disincentive for districts to attempt to terminate poor performers. Therefore, the state must ensure that the opportunity to appeal occurs only once and only at the district level. It is in the best interest of both the teacher and the district that a conclusion is reached within a reasonable time frame.

Distinguish the process and accompanying due process rights between dismissal for classroom ineffectiveness and dismissal for morality violations, felonies or dereliction of duty.
While nonprobationary teachers should have due process for any termination, it is important to differentiate between loss of employment and issues with far-reaching consequences that could permanently impact a teacher's right to practice. New Jersey should ensure that appeals related to classroom effectiveness are only decided by those with educational expertise.

State response to our analysis

New Jersey was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. The state asserted that teaching staff members under tenure may only be removed after a hearing on charges of "inefficiency, incapacity, unbecoming conduct or other just cause." It is clear that what NCTQ calls ineffectiveness is what New Jersey refers to as inefficiency. The state referred to statute that says, "If the charge is inefficiency, prior to making its written determination as to certification, the board shall provide the employee with written notice of the alleged inefficiency, specifying the nature thereto, and allow at least 90 days in which to correct and overcome the inefficiency." 

The state noted that specific timelines are set for each stage of the tenure hearing process. For non-tenured teachers, all the process they are due is in their contracts—usually a 60-day notice for termination for any cause. Nontenured individuals may be entitled to a name-clearing hearing before the Commissioner if their reputations have been tainted by the district's allegations of wrong-doing.

Last word

It is not at all clear that what NCTQ calls ineffectiveness is what New Jersey refers to as inefficiency. This is not a matter of semantics. If New Jersey intends to permit the dismissal of teachers for ineffectiveness, then the state should articulate policy to say as much. Unfortunately, the current terms the state uses to define grounds for dismissal fail to make it clear for districts that they can legally terminate poor performers.

How we graded

States need to be explicit that teacher ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal.

Most states have laws on their books that address teacher dismissal; however, these laws are much more likely to consider criminal and moral violations than performance. When performance is included, it is usually in a euphemistic term such as "incompetency," "inefficiency" or "incapacity." These terms are ambiguous at best and may be interpreted as concerning dereliction of duty rather than ineffectiveness. Without laws that clearly state that teacher ineffectiveness is grounds for dismissal, districts may feel they lack the legal basis for terminating consistently poor performers.

Due process must be efficient and expedited.

Teachers who are dismissed for any grounds, including ineffectiveness, are entitled to due process. However, due process rights that allow for multiple levels of appeal are not fair to teachers, districts and especially students. All parties have a right to have disputes settled quickly. Cases that drag on for years drain resources from school districts and create a disincentive for districts to attempt to terminate poor performances. Teachers are not well served by such processes either, as they are entitled to final resolution quickly.

Decisions about teachers should be made by those with educational expertise.

Multiple levels of appeal almost invariably involve courts or arbitrators who lack educational expertise. It is not in students' best interest to have the evidence of teachers' effectiveness evaluated by those who are not educators. A teacher?s opportunity to appeal should occur at the district level and involve only those with educational expertise. This can be done in a manner that is fair to all parties by including retired teachers or other knowledgeable individuals who are not current district employees.

Research rationale

One of the greatest shortcomings of teacher performance appraisals has been school systems' unwillingness and inability to differentiate instructional competency. The New Teacher Project, 2009, "The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness" at http://widgeteffect.org/

See NCTQ, State of the States: Trends and Early Lessons on Teacher Evaluation and Effectiveness Policies (2011) as well as studies by The New Teacher Project of human resource and dismissal policies in various districts at: http://www.tntp.org/.

For information on the high cost of teacher dismissals, see Steve Brill, "The Rubber Room," New Yorker, August 31, 2009 at: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/08/31/090831fa_fact_brill.
 
Also, see Scott Reeder, "The Hidden Costs of Tenure: Why are Failing Teachers Getting a Passing Grade?" Small Newspaper Group, 2005 at:http://www.nctq.org/nctq/research/1135269736359.pdf.