Education in the Media
NJEA Unveils School Reform Plan at Annual Atlantic City ConventionNovember 10, 2011
ATLANTIC CITY — The New Jersey Education Association has a new message for Gov. Chris Christie, the man who has relentlessly hammered the teachers union over the past year for opposing his education policy proposals.
"When it comes to education reform, educators are taking the lead," NJEA President Barbara Keshishian said today at the union’s annual convention in Atlantic City.
This week, for the first time since Christie took office and made education reform a top priority, the union released its own comprehensive set of reform proposals, such as increasing students’ access to high-quality preschools and making it harder for teachers to earn tenure.
"The NJEA is publicly calling for a broad range of research-based education reforms designed to improve student achievement," Keshishian said. "We are taking the lead on many critical and complex issues."
A spokesman for the governor said Christie proposed education reform legislation more than six months ago and intends to press on with these reforms in the lame-duck session of the Legislature.
"It is a long overdue, comprehensive overhaul that, among other things, ends antiquated tenure protections that protect poor teachers at too great a cost to our children and our taxpayers," spokesman Michael Drewniak said.
"While it is good to see the NJEA moving in the right direction, and basically admitting that change is coming, its proposals are, once again, far too weak and do not represent true reform."
In the coming weeks, Christie is expected to renew his focus on education policy and will again push to give the best teachers bonuses, end a practice that protects more experienced educators from layoffs and base teacher tenure partially on student test scores.
A Democratic Party energized by this week’s electoral victories and a teachers union with reform proposals of its own may make it harder for Christie to succeed without compromising, some teachers at the convention said.
"He has backed down," said Brenda Lawson, a veteran educator from Paterson. "We will no longer lie down and let him walk all over us."
Dorothy Cimo, a Jersey City elementary school teacher, said she was happy to see the union take a stand against the governor’s attacks rather than always being on the defensive. Christie has previously criticized union leadership for being intractable "political thugs."
"We’re finally coming back and responding in a positive way," Cimo said, speaking of the union’s reform agenda. "Everything he says is negative, but now we have a chance to keep the dialogue positive."
Perhaps the loudest advocate of the union’s new outlook is Diane Ravitch, an education historian and former assistant education secretary under President George H.W. Bush who addressed a few thousand teachers at the convention today.
"Teachers of New Jersey, you have a problem — you have a governor who doesn’t think much of you," Ravitch said to a standing ovation and loud applause. "New Jersey’s public schools are among the best in the nation. Hands off what’s working."
In a fiery address, Ravitch challenged the Christie administration to prove the efficacy of its proposals. She spoke against teacher accountability based on test scores, expanding charter school access and eliminating teacher tenure as it’s now known — proposals Christie supports.
"Facts and logic don’t count when you have so much political power and money on one side of the debate," Ravitch said. "The only thing they don’t have on their side is the truth."
Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf said, "As usual, Diane Ravitch is long on talking points, but short on substance."
"New Jersey also has one of the highest achievement gaps in the country," he said, "and so we must continue to invest to make sure that every child, regardless of ZIP code, graduates from high school ready for college and career."
Cerf will address the 30,000 to 40,000 teachers in attendance this morning.
Last year, the state’s then acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks snubbed an invitation to speak at the convention, citing the union’s disinterest in working with the governor on "reforms that put results for our children first."