We’ve got three questions regarding the DOE Debacle over our Race To The Top application. One, will this damage Schundler’s effectiveness as Ed. Commissioner? Two, how will the ol’ switcheroo of our original application with the NJEA-authorized version affect our chances in the competition? And, three, is there any chance the street theater that played out yesterday is a brilliant strategy long in the works?
It’s hard to argue that any of this makes Bret Schundler look especially strong. NJEA’s (understandable) wrath is directed full bore at Christie, which casts the Ed. Commish in a victim-esque role, and probably not one he prizes. NJ Spotlight’s John Mooney writes that “the whole episode may only make the commissioner’s job more difficult as he tries to negotiate with various stakeholders for what is an extensive agenda, including school vouchers, charter schools, testing changes and a host of financial reforms.
The Star-Ledger reports that Schundler was castigated by Christie on Friday for agreeing to concessions to the original tenure and teacher evaluation reforms laid our in the NJEA-free application and that the Governor had not been informed about the compromises.
Is there a silver lining for Comm. Schundler? Only this: NJEA officials now regard him as a fellow victim of Christie’s agenda. (If Mel Brooks was in the house we’d hear a reprise of that old standard “The Inquisition”* from his farce “History of the World, Part I” with Christie playing Torquemada and NJEA and Schundler cast as various Jews and heathens.) Suddenly, Schundler is a fellow traveler, one of the oppressed, a member of the diaspora, no longer the cold edu-mongerer intent on savaging our public school system. On the other hand, has he lost all credibility?
Regarding the second question, the consensus seems to be that our chances for winning RTTT are simply stronger with the original unedited-by-NJEA application. The Record interviews Charlie Barone of Democrats for Education Reform:
Christie’s approach has been “ham-handed,” but the state’s application still has a chance for success despite the lack of union sign-on. A number of states, notably Louisiana and Illinois, have submitted proposals that don’t included full union support, he said.
Barone said he had been surprised Schundler had agreed to so many concessions since they seemed at odds with Christie’s agenda. “Why did they feel they needed NJEA support so badly that they shredded their application?” Barone asked. “Now they have a strong application but a lot of collateral damage.”
And, again in NJ Spotlight, Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy muses that we’ll “lose points on the application without union support” but the stronger proposal “could make up for it.” Certainly, the original application was stronger than the compromise document, and more in line with Obama Administration directives, specifically in regard to tenure reform (thrown out in the rewrite) and tying teacher evaluation to student achievement (diminished in the rewrite). In fact, the concessions agreed to by Schundler most likely would have resulted in a losing application. So we’d be out $400 million. On the other hand, one could make a strong case that this monetary loss would be compensated by the meeting of the minds hashed out last week between the DOE and NJEA officials. In other words, we’d have a chance to at least do a little ed reform with cooperation from the union. Carrot versus stick. If it turns out that we win RTTT, we’ll have a pretty big stick but a mighty obstreperous horse.
Brilliant strategy on the part of Christie and Schundler, a tour de force of political manipulation? Schundler comes out as a friend of the NJEA, Christie the cruel dictator (not that this will hurt his feelings much), and our application for federal funds is back on track with education reform dogma. Still, it’s hard to picture. Schundler’s been repackaged as an betrayed government worker (like the teachers?) but his stature as part of the Christie Administration seems diminished. Don’t these people talk to each other? And yet…these people must talk to each other. The fall of the NJEA in the eyes of the public (see this latest poll) is a powerful wedge issue that both Christie and Schundler have used efficiently and eloquently, in perfect harmony. Our RTTT application is too important a part of that dynamic for the two of them to overlook. Then again, maybe it’s just government work.
*”The Inquisition (here we go),
The Inquisition (what a show)
We know you’re wishing, that we’d go away
So come you heathens and all you Jews,
we got good news for all of yous,
You better change your point of views, today,
‘Cause the Inquisition’s here,
and it’s here to stay…”