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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Battle of Jersey - Opening Salvos

And so it begins: with the mid-term elections out of the way, the war over education reform commences in Trenton. I hope those of you who follow me from other places around the country forgive me over the next few weeks for becoming so Jersey-centric.

But understand that this battle does have national implications, much as the Wisconsin protests or the sleaze in Illinois did. Chris Christie is a darling of the right; they practically begged him to run in the primary. And he has staked all of his reputation on his ongoing war with the NJEA. What happens here will certainly ripple across the nation.

At the NJEA convention last week, Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf tried to put on a reasonable face in contrast to his boss (here's a great account of what happened, courtesy of Blue Jersey). His attempts at conciliation, however, would have been more believable if:

But you know me: always picking nits...

Tom Moran naturally sees past my fretting to what's really important:
"I just want to assure you, this issue of improving public education, especially for our neediest students, is not a political platform for him (Christie)," Cerf said. "It is the purpose of his being in office. He has the highest regard for teachers and teaching."
The last line was too much for the few hundred teachers who packed a room at the Atlantic City Convention Center to hear him.
They hissed. They booed. Some shouted words that can’t be reprinted here.
Bad words! From adults! When no kids were around! Oh, quick, get the smelling salts; Tom's not used to this, as I'm sure newspaper staff rooms are as chaste in language as Girl Scout troop meetings...
Cerf knew the reaction was too much to ignore, so he went once more into the breech.
"You will form your own judgments, and I can hear that out there," he said. "But he deeply appreciates your work and the amazing successes you’ve brought to this state, something we need to shout from mountaintops."
Okay, so this part of his speech didn’t work. By now, nearly everyone in New Jersey has a rock-hard opinion of the governor, one way or another.
Yes, and some of us based our opinion on what Christie has actually said. Click on the link - I dare you. It ain't pretty.

But this part is what really gets me:
On the impact of poverty, he found the sensible common ground. Yes, it has a huge impact on student outcomes and we can’t expect teachers to produce the same results for rich and poor. But no, that is no excuse for New Jersey’s economic achievement gap, the worst in the nation behind Alaska’s.
I've been down this road several times before, but it looks like I've got to go down it again:
On National Assessment of Educational Progress for 2009, State A's 8th Graders score a 293 in mathematics (tying for 3rd in the nation). White kids score a 302 (also 3rd); black kids score a 267 (9th). The gap between the two is 34 points (tied for 31st).

State B's 8th Graders score a 270 (tied for 47th in the nation) in math. White kids score a 271 (50th - yes, that's right, LAST in the nation!); black kids a 263 (tied for 17th). The gap between the two is only 7 points (1st in the nation).

So: all of State A's kids do better than State B's. The black kids do better in State A. The white kids do WAY better in State A.

But Chris Christie claims State B is doing better than State A. Is he insane, stupid, lying, or some combination of the three?

Oh, and guess what (I knew you were waiting for this)? State B is West Virginia; State A is New Jersey. Is everyone rushing down the Turnpike to get their kid enrolled in one of those "superior" West Virginia schools?

The reason New Jersey has a higher "achievement gap" is because, although our poorer, black, and Hispanic kids do relatively well compared to the national average, our white and wealthier kids do SPECTACULARLY well! We should be PROUD of this!

Yes, it goes without saying that we need to keep working hard to get black, Hispanic, and poorer kids to achieve more. But the "gap" is not an accurate measure of the success NJ schools have had. The only reason Christie focuses on it is to distort the reform debate.
The focus on the "achievement gap" is a deliberate distraction from the fact that New Jersey does well in educating it's disadvantaged and minority kids, but spectacularly well in educating everyone else. The reason other states have such a small achievement gap is not because they do better in educating their poorest children; it's because they don't do as well in educating their more affluent children.

If Acting Commissioner Cerf really wants to make peace with the teachers of New Jersey, he's going to have to do better than this. With the exception of a few editorial writers, anyone can see through this poorly-rehearsed good cop/bad cop routine he's worked out with Christie.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the facts, information and quotes from our "glorious" governator. It's all about union busting, defaming and swiftboating teachers to the nth degree. Christie has stirred up class warfare between the middle classes and the lower economic classes, between public and private sector workers. While private sector workers are stirred up to be jealous of the wages and benefits of teachers and other public sector workers, the rich are making out like hedge fund managers. These are frightening times for teachers; the war against traditional public schools, public school teachers and their unions is fierce and well funded.

Duke said...

Thx for that.