Everyone’s atwitter over Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks’ letter to NJEA President Barbara Keshishian in which she declines to attend the “Meet the Commissioner” session tomorrow morning at the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City. Her reasons? NJEA is more interested in protecting “bad teachers” instead of “rewarding good teachers,” in spite of the fact that 40 percent of our African American students, and 32 percent of our Hispanic students, lack proficiency in basic skills.” In response, last night NJEA’s leadership issued this press release:
Having apparently learned from her predecessor, Bret Schundler, that collaboration with educators on education reform issues is a fire-able offense in the Christie administration, Hendricks ducked an opportunity to speak directly with NJEA members about her vision for New Jersey’s public schools – and to listen to the concerns of classroom professionals.
Once again, the administration thwarts any attempt on our part at cooperation and collaboration because of the governor’s larger political agenda that insists that teachers and their union are the enemies of public education. To say, as she does, that NJEA ‘is unwilling to accept reforms that put results for our children first’ is an insult to every teacher in New Jersey.
1) Bret Schundler gets the NJEA’s Righteous Gentile Award, crossing enemy lines to bravely subvert Crass Christie’s nefarious plot to force teachers to genuflect to teacher evaluations tied to student growth.
2) There’s a pattern here: first, Schundler crafts a Race To The Top application with teacher buy-in that limits data-driven teacher assessment, and then Christie tosses it for the no-holds-barred original. Next, Christie announces the members of the Teacher Effectiveness Task Force, charged with creating a metric for evaluating teachers. Nary a member of NJEA on the list, though there is an AFT member. Then Hendricks stands up the NJEA-fest in A.C.
On the top of Christie’s to-do list: make NJEA irrelevant.
3) If we can’t work with you, then we’ll work without you, says Christie. Is that possible? No other state has managed to create a system that uses student growth as a metric for teacher evaluations without cooperation from local unions. And while many regard NJEA as one of the most powerful and militant unions in the country, Michelle Rhee, erstwhile Chancellor of D.C. Schools, had to put her plan to a vote (and the rest is history). And this is New Jersey, for Pete’s sake. Five hundred ninety-one districts, each with its own bargaining agreement that includes negotiated rules for teacher evaluations.
4) So Christie tries on a new role: Icarus, son of the craftsman Daedalus., who dares to fly high on waxy wings in order to escape from Crete. Can NJ move towards meaningful educational reform without NJEA? Can the most vital parts of reform be reduced to what Commissioner Hendricks describes in her memo as “reforms that put results for our children first and use them as part of our metrics for evaluating teacher performance”? Icarus died a watery death, but our Governor and the DOE are betting that they have the Legislative wingspan to bypass NJEA’s heft.
So Hendricks/Christie stand up NJEA and put all their cards on the most prickly element of reform: tying teacher evaluations to student growth and allowing districts to dismiss ineffective teachers through some sort of tenure reform. Can such lofty goals be accomplished without union support? Some would say no and make a good argument for slow, incremental steps. Then again, Christie is not a slow, incremental kind of guy. He’s betting on top-down legislative reform and skipping the hospitality suites.
At least Icarus knew where he was going.