Author Archive: A New Jersey Farmer


Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer

As a politician, we always assumed that Chris Christie had to have some hypocrisy in his blood. After all, he promised not to touch teacher’s pensions when he was running for Governor and we know how that promise turned out. He also said that he would use his prosecutorial skills to ferret out corruption in New Jersey, but that seems to be off the table as well.

Now comes word that the Governor is four-square behind a referendum on marriage equality in the state, but dead set against citizens voting on whether they want charter schools in their districts. Bob Braun’s article this week highlights Christie’s double vision, and an equal dose of doublespeak on the legislature’s part, with a sharp razor’s edge:

The contradiction – hypocrisy? – was set up nicely the other day when Assembly committees acted on the two issues. The Assembly Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, released a gay marriage bill; the Assembly Education Committee, also on a party-line vote, approved a bill allowing local voters to decide whether they want to pay for charter schools in their communities.

In the Judiciary Committee, the Republicans were for referendum and the Democrats were not. In the Education Committee, the opposite was true.

While the panels were meeting, Christie was at a town hall meeting and he repeated his insistence that same-sex marriage go to a referendum. “The fact is, they don’t trust the people of New Jersey to decide,” he said.

He made the comment at a charter school – and the governor has repeatedly said he would veto any bill allowing referendums on charter schools.

Nicely done, Bob.

But it doesn’t stop there. Christie the unalloyed conservative is now trying to recast himself as something of a moderate, figuring, correctly in my view, that the conservative movement will see a massive flame-out this year and recede from the Republican Party leading up to the 2016 election (assuming that Mitt Romney loses in November. Which he will.). This piece by Charles Stile has all the details. By calling for a referendum on marriage equality, Christie doesn’t have to veto a bill that would alienate gays. By signing a 10% income tax cut, he can play to the economic conservatives without bankrupting the state. And he can blame the Democratic majority if the plan is shelved.

How is this working out? Not bad according to this poll, but there are problems. Almost half of the respondents think Christie is concerning himself too much with his own political future, so he’ll have to run softer and maybe give up the dream of becoming Vice-President under Romney.

And just yesterday, the good guv’nor picked another fight with the New Jersey Education Association over comments NJEA Executive Director Vince Giordano made over the effects of school vouchers on urban public schools. Said Christie:

“As Vince drives out of the palace on State Street in his big luxury car and his $500,000 salary, I’m sure life’s really fair for him and if Vince’s kids were in a failing school district he could afford to send them to any school in New Jersey that could help them succeed.”

Never mind that NJEA headquarters is hardly a palace or what Giordano’s salary is. Christie and his family are plenty wealthy, live in a fairly exclusive suburb, and the Governor sends his children to one of the priciest private schools in the state. There’s something seriously wrong with calling out someone whose work supports the very teachers that Christie has been vilifying for his entire, um, tenure, in office.

As for the real issue, the evidence shows that both vouchers and charters are not the panacea he claims, but both do take public money out of the school systems that Christie blames for not meeting students’ and parents’ needs. He’s robbing the system, then blaming it for being ineffective.

That’s Hypochristie

Christie’s Tax Cut: Selling Our Souls for $58

promoted by Rosi

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer.

I’ve already commented on Governor Christie’s 10% tax cut proposal, which sounds like a wonderful idea, except that it’s not a wonderful idea. As Mark Magyar wrote in Sunday’s Newark Star-Ledger, the real problem in New Jersey is high property taxes, not the income tax rate. This comes on the heels of another report which said that New Jersey’s property tax rate rose at its lowest rate in 2011, an average of 2.4%.

To get an accurate picture of just how the governor’s proposal would affect the average taxpayer and homeowner, let’s take a look at both numbers, the income tax cut and the average increase in property taxes, and see what the real effect would be.

School Reform: Baseball Bats to Bad Data

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer.

Remember when Joe Clark was the face of educational reform? The former Principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ patrolled the hallways of his out-of-control institution in the 1980s with only a bullhorn and a baseball bat, fighting poverty, gangs, crime and under-performing students as the face of urban education. His tactics were crude and anti-education, but the fact that he was a hero to many spoke volumes about the way in which people saw the problems in our schools.

Today, the people with the bullhorns and the weapons are politicians and business owners who believe that the best way to cure the ills of public schools that have educated the freest, most productive people who’ve ever lived on this planet, is to make our schools just like the entities that led the way towards job outsourcing, unconscionable home loan processes, and a laser-like focus on stock prices that have almost bankrupted the economy.

Joe Clark’s sounding mighty effective right now.

Christie See, Christie Do

Cross-posted at A New Jersey Farmer.

With apologies to monkeys everywhere.

So it seems as though Chris Christie is channeling his inner Christie Whitman with his proposal to cut New Jersey income taxes by 10% across the board. We know how well Whitman’s 30% tax cut worked out. New Jersey borrowed massive amounts of money to pay for pensions and government projects, which led even lesser governors to stop paying into the public employee’s pension system, which resulted in the underfunded system becoming the state’s unofficial bird, the Albatross, when the economy bottomed out in 2009. I wish the rest was history, but unfortunately it’s become the present and future for hard-working middle class public employees across the state.

I Went to Trenton to Govern, But All I Got Was This Lousy $38 Million

Governor Christie has had some major legislative accomplishments over the past two years including a 2% cap on property taxes and a public worker pension and benefits overhaul. Mind you, these laws have not necessarily made life better for New Jerseyans, as taxes have still risen and thousands of experienced public workers have either retired, fled or have been laid off because of them.

The past six weeks, though, have been another story for the guv’nor.

Despite his general popularity, the Republicans actually lost seats in the November legislative elections. Now Christie will need to rely even more heavily on the Democratic majority in the legislature and the Democratic power brokers in Essex and Camden Counties. Add in the disdain that Senate President Steven Sweeney has for Christie and you have a recipe for gridlock sprinkled with a tablespoon of revenge.

Then, the general consensus was that the lame duck legislative session was going to be one of the most active in years, with bills flying around State Street on teacher tenure and evaluation, property taxes, jobs, budget cuts and patronage. What’s happened? Nada. Almost every issue was pushed to the formal session that begins in early January, and won’t probably get any steam until the Governor’s State of the State message in the middle of the month.

And in the spirit of the holidays, Christie picked a fight with Senator, and former Governor, Richard Codey over the permanent appointment of Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf, accusing Codey of (gasp!) feeding information to reporters. Christie canceled Codey’s security detail and fired Codey’s cousin from the Port Authority board. That’s politics through and through and shows that Christie will never be the warm, fuzzy leader he sometimes pretends to be.

But the true state of the Governor’s clout was uncovered when New Jersey was actually awarded $38 million dollars in Race to the Top funds by the Obama Administration so it could implement a speculative teacher evaluation system based on student standardized test scores. Getting money should be a positive, but this award only dredged up the previous failure to even qualify for $400 million dollars in education funds because of the Governor’s attitude towards the New Jersey Education Association. Not only did it cost the state money, it also cost Commissioner of Education Brett Schundler his job and showed that Christie would blame everyone but his leadership for the error. It’s a pattern that he’s repeated in every misstep since, and it’s one reason why he would not make a good president.

He’s ending the year by essentially becoming Mitt Romney’s pit bull and possible vice-presidential running mate. Granted, he did only say that he would keep the door open, but that will only serve as a distraction in the coming year, as his flirtation with the presidency proved throughout the fall, because every time he doesn’t get what he wants, the media will remind us all that he’s got his eye on the national ticket. The Governor should just say no this time around and focus on the state.

It’s still very possible that Christie will get some of his reforms through the legislature, but many in the state are tired of his outbursts and outlandish statements. Prosecutors like him are convinced that they are always right and that they have the ultimate truth on their side, so why compromise? We need to remember that the next time one runs for statewide office.

Bold Ideas Lead to Great Schools: The Future of Education Reform

This post originally appeared on my blog:

Sometimes an idea, or set of ideas, comes along that’s so clear and sensible, it makes you stop and wonder why we haven’t implemented it. Then again, some ideas are so ineffective, it’s a wonder they haven’t been buried in an avalanche of criticism.

Such is the state of public education reform in the United States at this moment. Governors throughout the country have tried, and in some cases succeeded, in forcing their versions of school reform in their states with little or misguided thought and a jaundiced eye towards the teachers who will need to carry it out. They eschew collaboration for rigidity, cooperation for coarseness, and conversation for calumny. Theirs is a corporate model based on competition, but that’s not necessarily how schools work. So far, this top-down approach has done little for education, but has done a great deal to sour relations between the adults who need to implement the changes and the politicians who want votes.

The key to real, lasting, effective reform in this country lies in a partnership between the state governments and teachers, parents and students, and the most effective reforms will focus their energies on people working together. That’s why the ideas in the article, Taking Teacher Quality Seriously: A Collaborative Approach to Teacher Evaluation by Stan Karp of Rethinking Schools Blog, are so vital. They are aimed at improving education and student performance without sacrificing the rights and concerns of teachers. As Karp says:

One promising model is the Montgomery County, Maryland Professional Growth System (PGS), which has taken a collaborative approach to improving teacher quality for more than a decade. Several defining features make the Montgomery model very different than the test-based “value-added” or “student growth” approaches. The Montgomery Co. professional growth system:

  *was negotiated through collective bargaining rather than imposed by state or federal mandate.

   *is based on a clear, common vision of high quality professional teaching practice.

  * includes test scores as one of many indicators of student progress and teacher performance without rigidly weighted formulas.

   *includes a strong PAR (peer assistance and review) component for all novice and under-performing teachers, including those with tenure.

   *takes a broad, qualitative approach to promoting individual and system-wide teacher quality and continuous professional growth.

There are many strengths to the PGS, as outlined above and in the rest of the article. It allows for collective bargaining, so it’s less antagonizing than the Wisconsin model that took away that right from teachers, and it has a component for peer assistance (PAR), where experienced teachers can share their expertise with newer educators.

But perhaps the best part of the system is that it’s not SDOT (Shoved Down Our Throats) by politicians who have little, if any knowledge of what works best in classrooms. It’s teacher-centered; and that’s the correct approach because teachers are the ones best qualified to carry it out.

The PGS also addresses another concern that the public has about education, and that’s teacher quality. As Karp notes:

In 11 years, the PAR process has led to some 500 teachers being removed from the classroom in a countywide system of about 150,000 students with approximately 10,000 teachers and 200 schools. Over the same period, nearly 5,000 teachers have successfully completed the PAR process.[ii]

But PAR is only part of a professional growth system designed to improve teacher capacity throughout the system, not just identify and remove ineffective teachers. It’s a qualitative approach growing out of a shared vision of high quality professional practice. The PGS begins with “six clear standards for teacher performance, based on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards” and includes “performance criteria for how the standards are to be met and descriptive examples of observable teaching behaviors.”

You can read the standards in the article. It’s refreshing to see that every one of them begins with the word, “Teachers.”

There’s more to like in the explanation of the process that teachers and administrators use to evaluate the program and each other. Teachers and principals are equally represented on a panel that determines if a teacher is effective. There’s an appeals process if a teacher is given a negative recommendation, and the system is based on documentation at every level of evaluation and appeal. This is a far cry from what happens at many public schools, especially here in New Jersey, where many teachers are observed once or twice per year and documentation is cursory, general or incomplete.

In the end, it’s the words the participants use to describe the process that show how effective the program can be. Here are some examples:

“It wouldn’t work without the level of trust we have here,” MCEA president Doug Prouty told the NY Times.

“(G)ood teaching is nurtured in a school and in a school system culture that values constant feedback, analysis, and refinement of the quality of teaching.”

While the system is spelled out in detail, what really makes it possible is the level of trust and cooperation that grew out of years of developing a collaborative approach to issues of teacher quality.

In Maryland, they seem to be on the right track.

In New Jersey, we might be moving in that direction.

On December 1, State Senator Barbara Buono introduced two education bills. The first would establish a teacher residency program to replace the present student teaching requirement.

Under the bill, all fourth-year students would be placed in a school district five days per week for a full-semester under the supervision of a district mentor teacher. The students would also take a seminar course during this period that provides a collaborative learning experience and peer discussion with other residency students and with faculty.

The bill would also create teacher mentor positions in each school district. These master teachers would then serve to introduce the teacher residents into the profession over the course of the full semester. It would be a collaborative program and would recognize excellent teachers.

The second bill would require each school district to develop a set of standards by which all teachers would be evaluated, by both peers and principals, based on district curriculum standards. They would be observed four times per year and be required to submit a portfolio of their work. There is no mention of standardized tests, and this process would be determined through collective bargaining. Those are good things. The bill also mentions collaboration and cooperation. Senator Buono’s bills will not be the final word on these issues, but they are a welcome addition to the debate.

The current reform models that rely on threats and stare-downs might make for exciting videos, but they are terrible public policy. If more Governors and Commissioners of Education would commit to the cooperative, collaborative ethic, they would find that educators would more readily commit to implementing bold reforms enthusiastically.

For more bold, enthusiastic ideas, visit