Education remains 2012 focus

Gov. Chris Christie continued his push for massive education reform Tuesday as he used his annual State of the State address to call on legislators to back him in his vision for a better system.

The governor renewed his call for tenure reform, school vouchers, teacher evaluations, streamlining of charter school approvals, the abolishing of seniority rules that govern layoffs and an end to forced placements.

“These are not radical reforms; they are common sense,” Christie said in his 45-minute speech before both houses of the Legislature.  “They are not rash; they are long overdue.  And they are not luxuries which can afford to languish for another six months or another year; they are essential for New Jersey’s success.”

The overriding theme, Christie said, is bad teachers and bad schools handicap New Jersey’s children and only through these reforms can we ensure all of the state’s children get a fair shake.

A great teacher, Christie said, has a greater impact on student learning than an average one, but an average teacher has an even greater impact when replacing an underperforming one.

“Tenure reform will lead to even greater student achievement because replacing underperforming teachers with even an average teacher raises each classroom’s lifetime earnings by over a quarter of a million dollars,” he said.  “Let’s act on real tenure reform now.  Let’s replace despair with hope in every classroom in New Jersey.”

But not everyone shares Christie’s black and white view of education.  In a response to Christie’s speech, the New Jersey Education Association called the governor’s proposals “bumpersticker and sound-bite solutions”  and invited the governor to join the union in their effort to bring about real reform.

“Governor Christie needs to sit down with legislators, NJEA, and all other public education stakeholders to discuss research-based reforms that will keep the best teachers in our classrooms, and help our students succeed,” said NJEA President Barbara Keshishian.  “NJEA spent several months developing reform legislation that is solidly rooted in reliable research, and our proposals have gained the attention and interest of legislative leaders.”

Last year, the NJEA proposed a reform to tenure that would streamline the process of removing a teacher for cause, but did not change the parameters under which a teacher could be disciplined.

Christie roundly dismissed the measure as more protectionism from the union.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said last week he is committed to working on education reform alongside the governor, but is not prepared to go forward with the entire package.  Sweeney said tenure reform was not on his agenda, though he favors some sort of merit-based compensation for high performing schools.

"I don't think what he's doing tonight, the method by which he's doing it helps to build a trustful relationship."
—Gov. Chris Christie reacting to President Barack Obama's speech on immigration reform.