One way to improve public education is to speed up the process to remove bad teachers from the classroom.
Unfortunately, getting rid of bad apples has become nearly impossible under union tenure rules that were crafted to protect teachers' rights but too often deny children a decent education
The antiquated system fails to hold teachers with a bad performance record accountable. They should not be allowed to wear tenure like a badge of honor that entitles them to a lifetime appointment in the classroom.
The New Jersey Education Association last week came up with a good idea: to allow an arbitrator to handle tenure cases instead of an administrative judge. The change could save time and money.
Not surprisingly, Gov. Christie, who has battled with the union since before he took office, blasted the proposal as inadequate. But if Christie plans to implement a sweeping agenda to reform public education, he must open the door for all stakeholders to participate. Legislation would be needed to change the tenure rules.
The state's largest teachers' union deserves credit for at least showing a willingness to tackle a tough issue like tenure. Historically, collective bargaining units have been reluctant to talk about changing work conditions.
But the union must also be willing to work with Christie to make other needed reforms. They include changing how teachers are evaluated and rewarding the best teachers with merit pay.
President Obama has called for similar reforms to raise the bar on teacher quality. His plan would give more training to those who need help. But those who still fail to improve after a reasonable period could be fired.
A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll found that 70 percent of New Jersey residents believe tenure is an obstacle that prevents districts from removing ineffective teachers. Most teachers get tenure after three years on the job.
On average, a tenure case can take a year to resolve and cost upward of $100,000, according to the New Jersey School Boards Association.
As a result, dismissals are relatively uncommon, even when teacher effectiveness may be at issue. In 2008, there were only 35 education-tenure cases in the state, about one for every 6,600 employees.
There are plenty of good, hardworking teachers and they should not be painted with the same brush. But allowing bad teachers to stay is a blemish on the profession and a disservice to students.
New Jersey should look to other states that are trying to overhaul the tenure process but keep safeguards in place. They want to make it more difficult for teachers to earn tenure, increase the time that it takes to get the job protection, and mandate periodic evaluations to retain tenure.