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Wake Up New Jersey! A Shout Out to Fellow Teachers in My Home State…

December 19, 2011

If you are a teacher, parent, or concerned citizen in the great state of New Jersey, is this the image of the person you want making important decisions on the affairs of public education in your state?

I was born and raised in NJ, and I still have a huge affinity for its residents as they are exceedingly refreshing to be around.  When you move away from NJ you find that you have to “tone-down” how you normally act as many people around the country (at least in the places where I have lived and am living now) are a bit more reserved.  I now live on the opposite coast so I am not as “plugged in” as to how people in the Garden State feel about the contentious figure steering their ship.  One thing that I can say is that I have heard from teachers in NJ, and they can’t stand Chris Christie and they are rightfully gearing up to fight against him during the next election cycle.

Speaking of Christie and his education policies I came across this piece on the Asbury Park Press site (a paper that I used to deliver all through my teens).  The article goes over how Christie, and his acolytes are literally targeting teachers in NJ.  All I can say to that is WAKE UP!  This man needs to be voted out of office for his thinly veiled privatization schemes.

From the article:

In last Sunday’s @Issue section, Derrell Bradford, a member of Gov. Chris Christie’s New Jersey Educator Effectiveness Task Force, presented his views on what must be done to improve educational quality (“School reform: Changes to tenure process, evaluations key to improving educational quality”). Bradford’s ideas, and the governor’s, center on teacher evaluation, tenure reform and merit pay.

One would think that somewhere in any discussion of education reform Bradford would discuss solutions to the problems that afflict New Jersey’s poorer students, such as overcoming poverty, single-family households, lack of motivation and the absence of jobs in a society that is increasingly shrinking the middle class. Instead, Bradford would like to lay all the blame on the state’s teachers.

This is the classic right-wing strategy nowadays.  Blame teachers, blame them for everything.  Students doing poorly certainly has nothing to do with poverty, broken homes, parents who are on drugs or who abuse alcohol…surely not!  It is that teacher’s fault that students are not progressing.

I recently debated these topics with Bradford on the WWOR-TV program “New Jersey Now.” In my book, “Teachers Under Attack: How NJ Governor Chris Christie’s Personal Vendetta Against Teachers Will Destroy Public Education,” I demonstrate that many of the arguments that Bradford (and our governor) make are based not on facts but on ideology and, in many instances, are simply wrong.

I am not surprised by this statement.  I have grown quite accustomed to right-wing Republican obfuscation tactics and techniques taken straight out of Frank Luntz’s playbook.   I am surprised that they are not called on their lies more.

When Christie formed his task force, he gave it a mandate to make standardized tests 50 percent of teacher evaluations. Reformers seem to have backed away from the original notion of linking evaluation to a single test score in favor of student growth.

While that is an improvement over the original suggestion, it nevertheless still places too great a percentage on test scores.

Seton Hall’s Joe DePierro, the dean of the College of Education and Human Services; Rutgers law professor Paul Tractenberg; Jesse Rothstein from the University of California at Berkeley; and NYU’s Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education under President George W. Bush, all indicate this percentage is too high or that tests should not be utilized to determine a teacher’s effectiveness.

Certainly, student achievement should have a role in a teacher’s evaluation, but nowhere near 50 percent.

School districts have already begun replacing the satisfactory-unsatisfactory evaluation done by a single administrator with new evaluation processes that take into account evaluations by multiple administrators and even teaching peers or master teachers.

Bradford says that evaluations should not be subjective. He couldn’t be more wrong.

Students are not cars to be produced on an assembly line. They are living, breathing beings with their own strengths and weaknesses in learning. Experience in the classroom is exactly the right quality to decide if a teacher is effective or not.

Some reform in evaluation and tenure is welcome. Perhaps the time needed to evaluate a teacher before obtaining tenure can be increased and methods to lessen the time and expense to fire bad teachers can be shortened.

Why is tenure needed in today’s modern society? The dirty little secret in many school districts is that during those first three years, many teachers are asked to work or contribute politically. Or maybe a board member’s relative needs a job, so a teacher is fired to make way for that relative.

As for merit pay, a study at Vanderbilt University shows that it doesn’t work. Merit pay for individual teachers is divisive. State Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s idea of merit pay for schools is more workable and doesn’t pit one teacher against another.

Merit pay for all the good teachers would cost too much. That’s the bottom line in education reform: money. Eliminate tenure, and you can eliminate teachers making the most money. Individuals and corporations are looking to profit from a $7 billion industry — education.

I have been shouting this exact point in this blog since its inception.  The corporate controlled Republican Party wants to lay hands on what they view as a public spigot of money.  They have done this seamlessly with the military-industrial complex, now they want to do it with education and there are not enough people at present who are speaking out publicly against this trend.

A newspaper columnist recently wrote about how the state Department of Education, led by Acting Commissioner Christopher Cerf, might allow school districts to hire private companies to provide alternative education.

Christie would like nothing better than to privatize education, and here’s a way for private business to get its foot in the door. Educators and students should not be made pawns in a war to control the huge amounts of money in the education business.


I do not advocate the status quo. Some change is needed in the educational process. But we should also pay attention to fixing the ills of society so that economically disadvantaged children do not lose hope and motivation before they can graduate.


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