Great Public Servants or Political Thugs?

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Here we go again.

Gov. Christie tells Diane Sawyer that NJ’s teachers are “wonderful public servants who care deeply.” However, he remarks, NJEA executives are “a group of political thugs.”

Cue yet another NJEA press release: “Governor Christie’s name-calling is a tired attempt to draw attention away from the fact that he chose to cut taxes for millionaires, rather than fund the state’s public schools…Once again, Christie is resorting to name-calling because he’s ducking responsibility for his own misguided priorities.”

Question of the day: is the distinction often made (guilty as charged) between NJ’s teachers and the NJEA leadership meaningful? Is a difference without a difference, a political sleight-of-hand?

Some argue that teachers themselves elect their leaders and that, therefore, NJEA President Barbara Keshishian, Executive Director Vince Giordano, or Press Spokesman Steve Wollmer are simply proxies for NJ’s 200,000 teachers. Attacking the union representatives while sporting an “I Love Teachers” bumper sticker, they argue, is at best ill-informed and at worst specious.

But criticizing a teaching force is like criticizing Santa Claus. How can you attack a member of the cadre of highly-educated professionals who choose to devote themselves to our kids? In a recent piece in the Washington Post, Jason Kamras, who put together a teacher evaluation system for D.C. public schools called IMPACT, called this the “bless your heart” problem in the teaching profession. He explained, “It’s “this is so hard, so bless your heart for trying.’ That’s not how you become a real profession. We need to be honest about that conversation.”

Gov. Christie tries to have it both ways. All NJ teachers are “wonderful public servants.” All NJEA representatives are “political thugs.”

Of course it’s not that simple. There are probably some NJ teachers who aren’t wonderful public servants. There are probably some NJEA reps who aren’t political thugs. But the dichotomy works for him. He can rail about the union’s recalcitrance in accepting reform-minded changes to evaluative tools and tenure while upholding the hagiography of teachers. And NJEA’s executives fall into the same trap every time by refusing to address what everyone else knows is common sense: some tenured teachers are great and some tenured teachers aren’t.

Gov. Christie is set to introduce his tenure reform proposal today in NYC. No doubt it will be harsher than the union wants. Instead of dismissing it whole cloth, what if NJEA produces a blueprint for reform that (unlike the empty package introduced this past winter) doesn’t insist
that NJ schools are uniformly great, doesn’t insist that we don’t spend enough money on education, and doesn’t insist that every tenured teacher is, bless his heart, at the top of his profession.

Can Barbara Keshishian and her associates acknowledge that there may be a something a wee bit goofy about our current teacher evaluation system, which uniformly awards “satisfactory” ratings to just about every employee? If they can take that step, then NJEA can offer to partner with the State (yeah, hard one to swallow, that) to develop a meaningful evaluative system that distinguishes effective teachers from ineffective ones using a metric that combines student growth, principal evaluation, and seniority.

It would be a lot more proactive than trading insults, and a lot more productive for NJEA’s 200,000 members.

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1 Comment

  • kallikak, April 10, 2011 @ 2:26 pm Reply

    Ever wonder why Christie doesn't use the same language on Hetty Rosenstein and the CWA?

    Because he would be committing an unfair labor practice under the state's Employer-Employee Relations Act.

    Name-calling is no way to run a railroad, Governor. If that's all you've got, we need to move on.

    P.S. The actual number of public school teachers in NJ is approximately 112,000. The remainder of the NJEA membership comprises non-teaching affiliated bargaining units.

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