For a year that governor Christie called “The Year of Education” his achievements so far are for the most part on the side of disruption and confusion. Needless to say. the children who are in NJ schools today will be the ones affected. Lost learning opportunities are not recuperable. Time is inexorable.
What began as an election fight with the NJEA and subsequently turned into a relentless campaign against teachers and their union has evolved into the most destructive process that has affected public education in New Jersey, possibly since the turn of the XX Century.
Governor Christie disguised his assault as an “education reform” after his first year in office, knowing fairly well that the best way to attack the NJEA was by attacking their membership. Along that change in tactics, he has connected with the national current of school privatization where big money is out for gain. For most of the reformers, education is a for-profit business and profit is the primary objective. Students are products.
New Jersey public education K-12 is facing teacher testing, merit pay, tenure reform, the loss of income by teachers due to pension and benefits reforms, reduced state funding, and as of late, a new system of testing for graduation beginning in the ninth grade. The latter is ultimately intended to replace the current High School Proficiency Assessment (HSPA), given for the last 10 years or so in 11th and 12th grades as a broader measure of language arts and math skills.
Of all of the above, I found that the pension reform was a must because of the dismal fiscal condition of the public pension system – caused by the irresponsibility of both political parties over the last 15 years.
I also believe that the replacement of the HSPA is a step in the right direction although such change all by itself will not achieve the desired results. The administration’s plan, although a good idea, is for the time being nothing but an empty box.
The rest of the objectives mentioned above are the framing introduced by the administration to weaken the teachers’ union and carry out the gradual privatization of public education.
There are a qualitative and a quantitative dimensions in education.
My point of view – and this is a general guideline – is that the qualitative aspect is best addressed through a uniform statewide curricula with tests which are not by multiple choice but in the old fashion way where students must show their work step by step. This is particularly important in the sciences and mathematics. However, testing or how we test are not at the heart of education but how we teach and how much we teach are. When I learn something, I know it regardless of whether I am tested or not.
The quantitative aspect is best addressed by diminishing ancillary activities, and teaching longer periods, days, and school years.
To add to the confusion, the federal government has changed the way it calculates graduation rates
However, in the end, what really counts is not how we measure knowledge but the amount of knowledge students graduate with. We are spending all these resources and building a huge bureaucracy to measure teaching at the expense of teaching itself. We are drowning in statistics but can high school graduates solve a quadratic equation?
Of course governor Christie and some of his democratic accomplices could not leave alone higher education:
Perhaps governor Christie is not old enough to worry about his legacy as governor. Or perhaps he does not care as long as he can satisfy his ambitious appetites.
There will be a great deal of damage to be undone when I am elected governor in 2013.