It’s that time again, Save Jerseyans. Our legislature is reorganizing, and the NJ Senate GOP released its list of committee assignments earlier this morning. You can read a complete assignment list by downloading this pdf.
Some good news? I’m very encouraged that the new “Higher Education Committee” will be headed by Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham (D-Hudson), an alumnus of the Governor’s transition team. Senate GOP Leader Thomas Kean Jr. (R-21) and Sen. Robert Singer (R-30) will represent the Republican caucus. These are reasonable people who I’d expect would be open to the Governor’s education reform agenda.
After all, the first baby steps of education reform in the Garden State have truly been a group effort.
Look no further than my home county of Camden for proof. At 2:00 PM today, Governor Chris Christie will visit Lanning Square School in Camden City to sign the “Urban Hope Act” into law. He had announced a private-public education project there back in June 2011; the stated goal of the project is to reform education through increased school choice and accountability.
The resulting legislation will, according to a release from co-sponsor Sen. Donald Norcross’s (D-5) office, yield dividends for those kids languishing in some our state’s poorest-performing school districts:
The legislation (S-3173/A-4426) would create a pilot program that would designate Camden, Newark and Trenton as “renaissance districts.” In each district, nonprofit entities – upon receiving local school district approval – could apply to the state Commissioner of Education to create up to four new public school projects, called “renaissance school projects,” which would be operated and managed by the nonprofit. The projects would be constructed with private funding. Both the local school district and the state Department of Education would need to approve each such project.
It’s a start. Click here to read the first reprint. Keep in mind… this bill won the NJEA’s support! And no, Hell hasn’t frozen over (to the best of knowledge). Also keep in mind that the NJEA lent its support to the Hope Act only after first opposing the bill. With passage a reality, their chief lobbyist is now saying that his union membership “have always supported public school choice.” Not really, but we’ll hold them to it now that they’ve said it!
Just don’t chalk it up to altruism. The NJEA may be thick but they’re not dumb, Save Jerseyans. They recognize that Governor Christie’s principled leadership has helped transform the education debate here in New Jersey.
And he didn’t accomplish this feat with “bipartisanship”; in other words, he didn’t undercut his position by negotiating, compromising, and conceeding to bad premises before first articulating his case to the voters. Remember: he made waves by declining to seek the NJEA endorsement in 2009. He then proceeded to hold open town halls at every Turnpike exit, passionately laying out his case for a fresh approach to educating our children. Democrats – particularly those with urban-intensive districts – were quick to warm to his message.
Of course, I’ve been arguing that “school choice” is a winning issue for the GOP since Save Jersey first opened shop in 2008. This is tangible proof. My only hope is that Republicans in Trenton and around the country make a New Years resolution to double-down on education reform and proceed boldly with taking their case directly to the people. The facts are on our side. Just add courage, stir, and let it bake until November. No one issue is as important to the economic, cultural, and civic sustenance of our nation!
As a public school teacher in Camden, you can bet I have some pretty strong opinions about what constitutes education reform and what is just rhetoric. Like you, I was, at first, blown away by some of Mr. Christie's claims of a plan to fix what's broken in Camden Schools. However, my suspicions were aroused when he failed to bring any of the people who actually work here or have children here, into his plan. As for leveling the playing field for underserved school children by eliminating tenure for teachers – I don't even know how those two things go together.
This is my second year in Camden Public Schools. I love teaching here, and not just because of the fabulous paycheck – about $52,000 before taxes. I'm constantly amazed at the ability of my colleagues to inspire hundreds of students on a budget of $0,and I like implementing the instructional strategies I learned in Ed. Leadership, and measuring the impact on my students.
After all is said and done, I teach in Camden because I want to, and my goal – to increase achievement in music education, and measuse it – is within my reach. In my heart of hearts, I believe that any reforms in education will be made by people like me, and any parity achieved by Camden children are also within my purview, not Mr. Christie's. Not because I'm smarter than he, or richer. But because I'm here with them every day, and he isn't. You know how kids are – they like that.
So let's talk specifics, Moynelle. What about the Urban Hope Act are you opposed to?
I hear plenty of criticism from public educators when "school choice" is on the table. What is your alternative? In Camden, taxpayers (largely located outside of Camden) are paying $17,000-18,000 per year, per student. That's over $600,000 for a class of 35 kids. Your $50,000 salary leaves $550,000+ in the budget per classroom. Where is that money going? Electricity? Chalk? I doubt it.
Union leaders and district administrators are running a leaky ship. In Camden, the S.S. Education is already at the bottom of the river. We need private-sector accountability so YOU, the teachers who care, have the support and resources to do your job well! Otherwise, we're going to lose yet another generation of kids. That outcomes benefits no one.
Thank you for providing this format for responding Matt. You’ve raised some interesting points.
I have no particular objection to the Urban Hope Act, or school choice. But, when it comes to leadership, I am an NCO at heart. As such, my first objective is to make the best use of the resources available to me in order to achieve my goals for music education. I think that my ability to purchase/acquire/barter or invent alternatives to materials that have not been provided to me through taxes or my immediate supervisors is what makes me ‘a fit’ in Camden. In my opinion, waiting for the NJEA, the BOE, ed administrators, or the Urban Hope Act, to provide funding for my supplies is way too risky. Also, I’ve found that the leadership within these organizations is often characterized by well-meaning people with no experience, or self-promoting “me-firsters” who want to co-opt my hard work and reputation to promote their own agenda. They often have no idea what the obstacles are here, and no plan for overcoming them effectively.
Being the simple minded NCO that I am, I generally work around organizations like these by
• Spending my own money
• Establishing relationships with parents and non-profit organizations
• And collaborating with staff in my own building, to make my program go within the time frame allotted to us – our students’ childhood!
What Christie doesn’t get is that their childhood does not pause every time politicians like him set my clock back to zero by
• Confiscating the funds ear-marked for our new building
• Diverting them to a new school that is not obligated to accept the ‘bad kids’ from this one
• And turning public opinion against me, as if these schools turned bad when I got here and not – teachers like me are drawn to poor performing schools because we have the skills they need
I’m afraid he will find it devilishly hard to replace me with super-teachers that can keep these kids in school once they’ve reached age 16. Especially if the promises he’s made to taxpayers involve
• Paying the super-teachers too little to cover their college loans
• Cutting benefits and pensions to workers that already cannot afford to live in the districts in which they teach, or in our case, can’t live in the district in which they teach
• And eliminating tenure while simultaneously, not changing the laws that make it possible to dismiss 47 ½ % of new teachers without cause.
In my opinion, the only fools who would continue to work under these conditions are already here.
Like any good NCO, I do have alternative solutions to the problems you articulated. As a rule, they involve empowering teachers (the worker bees), and holding administrators and public servants accountable (the high wage earners). My solutions have not made me popular with NJ BOE’s and school administrations so far, and they are rooted in my educational experience.
Finally, to answer your questions about the Urban Hope Act and school choice specifically – I have no beef with either of these. My beef is with a CO that has yet to communicate his plan to soldiers like me, currently inhabiting the trenches.