The failure of NJ to receive a Race to the Top (RTTT) award after two attempts further lays bare the rift between NJEA and Governor Christie – a rift that also existed with prior administrations but grew more bitter during the current year. Tenure reform, merit pay, teacher evaluation, layoffs, and student performance data are some of the divisive issues. The governor’s antagonistic attitude and frequent frontal attacks against teachers exacerbate the problem. For NJ to maintain excellence in education both groups need to work together for solutions.
The infamous failure during Christie’s re-write to answer properly a simple question regarding 2008-09 education funding resulted in the deduction of 4.8 points. The panel reviewer score sheet indicates that as the total number of points possible was 500, and NJ received a score of 437.8, reviewers deducted 62.2 points throughout the proposal. A look at the technical review form indicates the categories in which the reviewers deducted points and suggests areas that must be addressed in discussions between the governor and NJEA.
Securing local education associations (LEA) commitment and translating its participation into state-wide impact – 14 points deducted. Reviewers in the first round noted that only 387 out of 656 districts agreed to participate and only four district presidents provided a signature, and they felt that “this lack of greater involvement will challenge NJ’s efforts to meet its goals.” In the second round they said that “while the lack of union support may create some problems, it now seems that implementation can proceed with existing LEA support.”
Using broad stakeholder support – 4 points deducted. Reviewers: “The lack of support from 269 districts and the NJEA leaders supports a low rating.”
Fully implementing a state-wide data system – 10 points deducted. Reviewers: “NJ has implemented only 7 of the 12 elements of a state-wide system”
Using data to improve instruction – 5 points deducted. Reviewers: “NJ does not provide a researcher’s perspective on what studies the data will be used for.”
Using evaluation to inform key decisions – 3 points deducted. Reviewers: Participating local districts understand that they must use evaluation data to inform professional development, compensation, and tenure. With over 40% of LEA’s not participating, the potential for state-wide impact may be limited.
In conclusion the reviewers say overall our plan “is generally strong and well-designed and meets the absolute priority as a comprehensive approach to education reform.” However, the reviewers add, “The biggest question for this proposal is whether the reforms will truly make a statewide impact in light of the non-support of local and state NEA affiliates.”
Certainly in NJ we have the foundation for continued excellence and even stronger results. To move forward the governor must end his vitriol and return to negotiations, and NJEA must lower its resistance to some of the reforms and recommit itself to seeking solutions. The NJEA and Schundler moved closer toward healing the rift until the governor intervened and tore up their agreement. This rift hurts students, teachers and all New Jerseyans.