How much airtime did Gov. Christie devote to education in his State of the State speech yesterday afternoon? The whole megillah was 4,213 words. (Here’s a transcript).Twenty-five percent of the text was allotted to the benefits of longer school days and years and the virtues of Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson and Camden Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard.
One contextual note: Camden Assemblyman Gilbert Wilson has pushed a bill since 2010 to create a three-year pilot program to fund extended days and years for 25 districts, among them, supposedly, Camden. The bill gets extra gravitas from its co-sponsor, Senator Teresa Ruiz (Essex). The proposal doesn’t shy from one of the elephants in the room surrounding Christiana (do we have a full-fledged herd now?): most wealthy suburban parents don’t want longer days and years for their kids. More poor urban parents do. So do we move a step closer (if you think we’re not there yet) to a separate pedagogy and infrastructure for needy kids? Is this a bad thing or a good thing?
Anyway, here’s reactions to Christie’s proposal from media, pundits, and lobbyists.
Would it be a statewide mandate, or one for the most troubled districts? Would it come with the state money needed to pay staff or have some other source of funding? And what about existing teacher contracts that already set the school day and calendar? …And it doesn’t come cheap.Under separate agreements reached between [Newark Superintendent Cami] Anderson and the Newark Teachers Union, teachers working in those schools [with extended days] each receive between $3,000 and $7,500 in additional stipends for the extra time.
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest it’s a worthy reform. Spending more time on task leads to better outcomes for disadvantaged kids, who particularly suffer from summer learning loss. And what sense does it make to base our school year on the agrarian calendar, a relic of the days when kids were needed to till the fields?
Yet what the governor gave us today was a proposal with no particulars…There are also significant practical obstacles, the biggest of which is cost. Considering the restrictions on state aid to schools, the governor’s tax cap and the difficulties of trying to rewrite teacher contracts, how do districts implement this grand vision?
We all want to hear more about his plan to extend the public school day and school year. Is it worth the cost of paying staff more and air conditioning all buildings to get a few weeks more use from them in the sweltering summer?
Christie says the extra time would increase our students’ readiness and competitiveness. But if he thinks so, it’s at odds with his 2009 comment that mocked a universal pre-K proposal as government babysitting.
Some advocates applauded the idea, saying extra time would help teachers collaborate more and give students more individual attention. But some parents and school leaders said changing the schedule was a complex and difficult undertaking, considering their desire to allow time for afterschool sports, other activities and homework. Educators also said schools were now under orders to launch so many initiatives – including new teacher evaluations, tougher academic standards and online testing – that it was hard to take on another major change.
Representatives of education associations said any discussion should include educators and parents and be based on research and evidence.
New Jersey School Boards Association Executive Director Lawrence S. Feinsod supported the concept, but he noted the length of the school day and year is negotiated locally in teacher contracts. He said about a third of 2013-14 contracts already call for increased work time. A longer school year also could impact the state’s tourism industry, which relies on summer family vacations for a large share of its revenue.
Christie says children who spend more time in school are better prepared academically. He’s expected to leave details of the proposal, which are being worked out with Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, for another day.
The plan could antagonize an old adversary, the powerful public teachers’ union, with which Christie has clashed over pension and tenure changes. The New Jersey Education Association spent millions of dollars in anti-Christie advertising during last year’s gubernatorial campaign, which he won easily.
The speech was larded with pledges aimed at conservative voters, who dominate the Republican primaries and caucuses: A call for school vouchers for public and private school students. A hint at a possible tax-cut plan to come in next month’s budget address. A call for a longer school day and a shorter summer break. Tougher bail requirements for people charged with violent crimes.
In fact, virtually every initiative in Christie’s State of the State speech targeted public employee unions, from his demand for zero payments for unused sick leave and Civil Service changes to reduce union protections in municipal consolidations to his push for extended school hours and an extended school year without any discussion of whether teachers would be paid for the additional work…
For the embattled Christie, who is facing months of investigations into the Bridgegate scandal, a public battle with Democrats and the public employee unions over the high cost of pensions for government workers is a fight he would welcome, and it certainly would not hurt his standing as he travels around the country as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and aims to keep alive his hopes of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.
NJ School Boards Association Executive Director Lawrence Feinsod:
“For more than 30 years, research has shown that increased instructional time is a key to greater academic achievement.”
Ultimately, these are decisions that must be discussed and determined at the local district level. As Gov. Christie wrote in his veto of the full-day kindergarten task force bill, ‘the decision of whether to offer a full-day program should reside with local boards of education and their constituents.’ It is equally true that those boards and those constituents, including parents and educators, should have the final say on the length of their school day and school year. New Jersey has a well-established collective bargaining system that provides the legal process by which districts can implement such changes once they are agreed upon. NJEA has consistently supported the use of collective bargaining to help make such important educational decisions.
Education Law Center‘s Executive Director David Sciarra:
“After four years of Governor Christie’s funding cuts, many districts are reducing staff, increasing class size, and eliminating supports for at-risk students,” the law center’s Executive Director David Sciarra said in a prepared statement. “The governor should properly fund the school year and day we now provide for our students before putting more cost burdens on New Jersey’s struggling school districts.”