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Ax Lifetime Tenure, N.J. School Boards Group Urges

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The association representing school boards in New Jersey has called for the end of lifetime teacher certification and tenure.

In a written proposal issued as part of a wider statewide debate over school finance and academic standards, the New Jersey School Boards Association said the change was needed to overhaul the education system for the 21st century.

"Do we want to carry the same labor-management model we've had for 90 years?" said Robert E. Boose, the group's executive director. "Surely there is a way to look at a new and improved way to put the best staff in front of children."

The association's March 21 document, "An Educational System for the Next Century," endorses curriculum standards in seven content areas that have been proposed by the administration of Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. The group presented its recommendations at a legislative hearing in Trenton and lawmakers are studying them, officials said.

In addition, the association proposes replacing the lifetime tenure guarantee that the state's teachers receive after three years with "renewable contract tenure." Teachers would receive tenure protection for contract periods of three to five years, but their job performance could be reviewed at contract-renewal time.

Is Tenure Obsolete?

Mr. Boose contended that anti-discrimination statutes and other legal protections have rendered tenure nearly obsolete.

"This is not doing away with ten-ure," he said. "It's modernizing it."

The association also calls for requiring teachers to keep current in their subject areas and maintain their skills to keep their teaching certificates, which are currently good for life after a one-year provisional period. Under the association's plan, a standard teaching certificate would be renewable every five years.

Teachers' union officials gave the proposals a chilly response.

"One has to ask about the real motivation here," said Lynn Maher, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association.

While it is true that employees have gained more civil-rights and other legal protections in recent years, she said, "few workplaces are as political as public schools. A new board of education is elected every few years, and they have a lot of power to hire and fire personnel."

School districts already have sufficient tools to get rid of ineffective teachers, she said.

But the school boards' group said that the average tenure-revocation case takes 16 months to work its way through the system. Because of the time and expense involved, districts "file tenure charges only in the most egregious circumstances," the document states.

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