Governor Chris Christie may have hit the sweet spot with his package of tenure and pay reforms for K-12 teachers in New Jersey, according to our latest polling numbers here at Eagleton. While last fall voters told us they did not think teacher pay should be linked solely to student test scores. But Garden Staters are for the most part happy with the idea of tying pay to more holistic evaluations, that include test scores as part of the rubric.
Voters do not like tenure itself, though if it exists they want it tied directly to teacher evaluations.
The full text of the release follows. Click here for a PDF of the release along with questions and tables.
NEW JERSEY VOTERS FAVOR CHRISTIE TEACHER TENURE REFORM PROPOSALS
OK with using test scores as part of teacher evaluation
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J - New Jersey voters generally support key planks in Gov. Chris Christie's proposals to reform teacher tenure and pay, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Families with school-age children and those without support reforms that would eliminate lifetime tenure, change how teachers are evaluated and tie pay to performance. While public employee union households want no change, others strongly disagree.
"While some voters, especially those who feel negatively toward the governor are dubious about the proposals, for the most part New Jerseyans seem to embrace his ideas," said David Redlawsk, director of the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll and professor of political science at Rutgers University.
The poll of 912 New Jersey adults was conducted among both landline and cell phone households Feb. 24-26, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3 percentage points. A weighted subsample of 811 registered voters is reported here, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percentage points.
Strong opposition to current teacher tenure policies
After being briefed on the current K-12 teacher tenure system, 58 percent of registered voters disapprove of the tenure policies while only 40 percent approve. In a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll last October, just 28 percent approved tenure when told some believe it prevents bad teachers from being removed, rejecting the idea that it is necessary for academic freedom.
"Taken together, these results tell us that New Jerseyans are nuanced in their response to tenure," said Redlawsk. "When tenure is presented as providing due process, it gains more support than when it is described as a choice between academic freedom and protection of bad teachers. But in either case, a majority of voters doesn't like it."
Public employee union households are stronger supporters of tenure: two-thirds approve the status quo. Private union members disagree, however, with only 40 percent approving and 55 percent disapproving. Among nonunion households, 34 percent approve and 64 percent disapprove.
There are no differences between households with school-age children and those without, but partisan differences loom large, the poll found. Democrats, by a 2-to-1 margin over Republicans (53 percent to 26 percent), support current tenure policies. Independents are closer to Republicans on tenure, with only 36 percent in favor.
Personal feelings about Christie also strongly predict opposition to tenure: 21 percent of respondents who approve of the governor agree with the current tenure system versus 56 percent of those who disapprove of Christie.
"The governor's tenure reform package is closely connected to him, since he is not only its most visible cheerleader, but has been vocal in attacking the current system," said Redlawsk.
Comprehensive teacher evaluations including test scores welcomed
The administration's proposed changes to tenure include evaluating teachers on such indicators as standardized test scores, classroom observations and schoolwide student performance. Six-in-10 voters call this a fair approach, while 37 percent say it is unfair.
As with tenure itself, party identification helps predict support for the policy. Republicans are 12 points more likely to say the proposal is fair, though even 55 percent of Democrats support the idea. But respondents' impression of Christie is an even stronger predictor once again. Three-quarters of voters who like the governor say these changes in evaluation standards would be fair. But support drops precipitously among those who view Christie negatively. These voters are distinctly opposed to the plan: 44 percent see it as fair while 53 percent say it is unfair. And among public employee union households, only 36 percent see the proposal as fair.
Voters want tenure tied to teacher evaluations
New Jersey voters also support the administration's proposal to make it harder for teachers to gain tenure and easier to lose it. Nearly two-thirds want tenure linked directly to positive or negative teacher evaluations. Again, liking Christie drives support even higher, to 81 percent, while those who dislike the governor are evenly split, 48 percent approving to 50 percent disapproving.
Concurrently, voters recognize that "one size does not fit all" when it comes to evaluations. More than eight-in-10 agree adjustments should be made for teachers who teach where "children struggle and may not perform well" on state tests. Neither partisanship nor personal feelings about Christie change this response.
"New Jerseyans clearly accept Governor Christie's claims that the current system is broken, and thus needs to be reformed," said Redlawsk. "At the same time, they want these reforms to be fairly applied, recognizing that some teachers have a tougher time than others."
Pay should be tied to scores and other indicators
Garden Staters strongly believe teachers' pay should be tied to new standards. The towns in which they teach as well as their subjects or areas of specialization also should be considered. Sixty percent of respondents approve linking pay to evaluations, while 35 percent disapprove. Almost three-quarters of Christie supporters back the measure, while only half of those with an unfavorable impression of the governor agree.
The findings are substantially different from reactions to using only test scores to determine teacher pay. Last October's Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found that only 32 percent of respondents would support a proposal to link teacher pay solely to student test scores.
"Last time, we found little support for basing pay directly on test scores," said Redlawsk. "Now a more holistic approach is clearly supported, allowing tests to play a role, but not be the only basis for rewarding teachers."