Corzine vs. Christie: It’s the Education, Stupid

The New York Times has a must-read today on Chris Christie’s appeal to New Jerseyans committed to education reform. While this state tends to swing Democratic,

what could emerge as the sleeper issue is Mr. Christie’s push for education reform: merit pay for teachers, more charter schools, and above all, vouchers as a way to give poor and minority children better educational choices and create competition that would improve the public schools

The Times reports that that Christie’s recent snub of NJEA (see here) has aligned him with an unusual cohort: Mayor Cory Booker, Senator Ray Lesniak, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan, George Norcross, Reverend Reginald Jackson of the Black Ministers’ Council, and Martin Perez of the Latino Leadership Alliance.

Folks, we have an opportunity here. Many of us share a belief that public education in New Jersey is shackled by inequity among our 616 school districts (which won’t be ameliorated by new funding formulas), lack of support for non-traditional schools, and obeisance to NJEA. Over the 5 months remaining in the governor’s race, we can work together to frame the issues and drive the conversation about education.

Here’s the first cut at a list of changes in policy and direction that might appear on a New Jersey education reformist wish-list:

1) Policy-driven support and full funding for charter schools.

2) Reasonable accommodations from NJEA: merit pay (extra pay for working in more challenging schools, pay linked to student achievement); limits on tenure; member contributions to benefits; discussion about longer school days/school years; annual increases in line with economic reality.

3) D.O.E. leadership: complete overhaul of the Accountability Regulations (which right now add costs and overhead to school districts); honest appraisal of the achievement gap (no, we don’t have the best graduation rate in the country (see here), Special Review Assessment (see here).

4) School district consolidation (the only way to bring down our sky-high costs and have a chance to desegregate), despite opposition from local governments and school boards.

What else can we add? What would an education reformist platform look like in Jersey? What should your governor espouse? With five months to go and a heated race where education is apparently a wedge issue, are we ready to get serious? It’s not about Christie vs. Corzine (well, not yet). It’s about building momentum and getting people to pay attention. Jump in.

What do you think?

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