Ruiz deserves credit for drafting an acceptable compromise that puts the New Jersey Education Association and Christie on the same page. Christie has been battling with the state's largest teachers' union over his education reform agenda ever since taking office in 2010.
If approved, the legislation would change how teachers are evaluated and, for the first time, teacher performance would be linked to tenure. After two straight unsatisfactory evaluations, tenure charges could be lodged seeking eventual dismissal.
Standardized-test scores would be weighed in determining whether a teacher will receive tenure after four years, instead of the current three years. If implemented, care must be taken to avoid too much emphasis on testing, which is why too many teachers teach to the test now.
Tenure cases would be handled by an arbitrator, instead of by an administrative judge, as they are now, and they must be decided within three months. That could save time and money.
Most New Jersey residents believe tenure is an obstacle that prevents districts from removing bad teachers from the classroom. Under the current system, a tenure case can take a year to resolve and cost up to $100,000. That's why dismissals are relatively rare, even when a teacher's effectiveness is questionable.
At least 18 states have enacted measures overhauling the tenure process. Idaho last year banned tenure in teacher contracts. President Obama has also called for drastic reforms to raise the bar on teacher quality. His plan would give more training to teachers who need help, but those who still fail to improve after a reasonable period could be fired.
The bill unanimously approved Monday by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee would leave intact seniority, a key protection for teachers, but one often criticized because it forces districts with financial problems to lay off younger teachers who might be their best instructors.
There are other areas where the bill could be better, including its arbitrator selection process, which would give unions an advantage in the number of arbitrators available to hear cases. The bill also wrongly exempts charter schools from following the same tenure rules.
A pilot evaluation system must be vetted thoroughly to ensure teachers' job performance will be fairly assessed. The majority of teachers are dedicated to their students and working hard to improve academic achievement. But those who can't measure up should be held accountable.