by John Martin, CNN
(CNN) - New Jersey updated its teacher tenure law on Monday. New Jersey's law was the nation's oldest statewide tenure law, enacted in 1909.
The new law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie, means that New Jersey will be able to remove ineffective teachers, even ones who have earned tenure. The law still provides for tenure, but after four years of teaching instead of the current three.
Tenure laws generally provide teachers with due process rights before dismissal, but many critics of the practice say that it makes it unnecessarily difficult to fire bad teachers.
Under the new law, teachers and administrators could lose their tenure if they have two consecutive years of ineffective ratings. While test scores can be a factor in determining a teacher's effectiveness in the state, tenure will not be at risk unless the district uses additional criteria. According to the new law, school district supervisors, not outside personnel, must conduct the teacher evaluations that help determine effectiveness.
The new process for assessing these charges involves binding arbitration hearings instead of New Jersey court proceedings. A Paterson, New Jersey school official estimated that firing a tenured teacher under the previous system would take about two to five years.
The new process, according to the governor’s office, will take a maximum of 105 days.
Groups that traditionally have been at odds worked together to craft and pass the bill sponsored by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Not a single member of New Jersey’s bicameral legislature voted against it.
Not only did the teachers' union support the bill, the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) said on its web site that the union helped write the new law.
Gov. Christie thanked the NJEA, the American Federation of Teachers and the New Jersey School Board Association, saying, "this was not going to get done without their input, their support, and their help....It's not everything they wanted to have happen, not everything I wanted to have happen...but it is a very significant piece of legislation."
NJEA president Barbara Keshishian says the new law saves money and shortens the time it takes to fire an ineffective teacher, while maintaining teachers' due process rights.
“NJEA brought that proposal to the table, and we were pleased that stakeholders gave it serious consideration and ultimately, their support,” Keshishian said.
A press release from Christie's office outlined some future education reforms the governor would like to see, including an end to the "Last In, First Out" (LIFO) practice, which protects senior teachers from layoffs. The NJEA dropped its objections to the tenure bill when wording to eliminate LIFO was removed from the legislation.