I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reformy Turf Wars?

B4K has been making so much noise lately, what with their ad campaign bashing the teachers unions, that I wondered what some of the other corporate "reformers" here in New Jersey were up to.

Let's check in on the NJ chapter of Democrats For Education Reform (DFER). Hey, this blog post is... interesting:
Recently, I was in a meeting with a colleague from the public sector and the subject of education advocacy organizations came up --- in reference to those groups working nationwide as well as those already in or slated to come to New Jersey. Before the discussion even started, my colleague stopped and rolling his eyes said, "Oh that's right...I've heard you advocacy people don't play nice in the sandbox together." This surprised me, as I hadn't realized education advocates had a reputation of not working well together. My colleague, however, assured me that this was common knowledge. 
Why it's hard to play nice: If you think about it, the ugly truth is there seem to be many reasons education advocates might not get along --- all of which tend to involve resources. There is a limited donor pool interested in advocacy, a limited number of political leaders willing to take on the issues, a limited number of experts who can speak with authority to those issues, and a limited attention span of the public and media to compete for. Even more, it's difficult to prove worth and earn credibility when so many factors play into the outcome of education policy and legislation. [emphasis mine]
The date of this post is August 11, 2011. We've been watching B4K get a lot of attention and press this summer.

Is someone else getting a little nervous about... "resources"?
Additional opinions at the table make for higher quality policies. For example, the American Federation of Teacher's was a key partner in Colorado's drafting of the "Great Teachers and Leaders Bill" (SB 191), which they helped ensure would set a national standard for other states to follow. At DFER, we're encouraged to have open dialogues with partners, honest conversations about the opportunities and challenges, and to share all relevant information. When united by common goals, playing the partner role verses the competitor role leads to the greatest outcomes. Perhaps this is why I was so surprised by my colleague's comment.
I'm glad to hear that DFER is coming out strongly against Governor Chris Christie's attack on the NJEA and his refusal to work with them on crafting policy. I'm sure they will hold him to account...


I also am glad they agree that there is no place for individual attacks on teachers themselves (not their unions), and join with me in calling for the governor to apologize to NJ's teachers personally and assure us this will never happen again...


In New Jersey, the success of education reform will not be to the credit of one group, one administration, or one bill...no matter how strong. Success will only be realized when a significant collection of people, groups, and leaders come together and play nice while working towards the same goal. It starts - very importantly - with individual legislators; those legislators who are willing to vote yes or no, those who take on ownership as a bill sponsor and the responsibility for the drafting process, and the legislative leadership willing to launch critical and oftentimes difficult dialogues. The crux of education reform policy at the state level comes down to the collective and bold efforts of legislators at a very personal and individual level. For advocates, if we can't reign ourselves in, play nice, and be the best support to our legislators, it will be to the detriment of all we fight for.
To be more accurate - it starts with MONEY to legislators:
Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that has put hard cash behind its reform crusade in New York State, quietly opened a New Jersey affiliate in February.
Its goal is to peel Democrats away from the grip of the New Jersey Education Association, the powerful teachers union. That will take communication (white papers, radio ads, door-to-door campaigning, if necessary) and eventually investment — checks written directly to legislators' campaign accounts.
"I haven't identified our top 10 legislators who are for us and our top 10 legislators who are being detrimental," said Kathleen Nugent, the group's New Jersey director. But over time, the group will target "who is supporting their kids and who is supporting the unions."
The national group now has chapters is six states and is stacked with executives of hedge funds — Anchorage Capital Partners ($8 billion under management), Greenlight Capital ($6.8 billion) and Pershing Square Capital Management ($5.5 billion).
Hey, I thought everyone was supposed to come to the table! I thought Colorado was showing us the way by inviting the union in. But I guess that's the Rockies; here in Jersey, we have to target the union supporters, because everyone knows teachers unions can't possibly have the best interests of kids at heart.


By the way: that's a lot of scratch. But so's the big pot B4K has put together. I wonder who's going to be pulling the reins of these legislators who accept all this hedge fund dough: Derrell Bradford or Kathleen Nugent? Whose group of investors will come out on top here?

Ah, why am I so worried? It's not like hedge fund managers have a history of competing between themselves and holding huge grudges or anything.

Remember: it's "all for the kids"...

Luvey, I just can't decide if B4K or DFER should get to funnel our money to NJ Assembly races... 

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