Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Schools don’t fail in Glen Rock, Ridgewood and Mendham for a reason and it has nothing to do with tenure."

I liked today's column from Alfred Doblin in the Bergen Record -- it's a good response to Governor Christie's Town Hall meeting last week in Paramus.

Reprinting Doblin's column here (AKA, no time to write tonight!):

Doblin: Put teachers on the table, not in the trash
GOVERNOR CHRISTIE came to Paramus last week and, like anyone coming to Paramus, he came to shop. But the governor was not shopping for something; he came to shop his ideas for education reform.

At a Thursday town hall meeting he said, “When you have schools like the 200 chronically failing schools in New Jersey with 104,000 students in them that have been judged to be chronically failing, we’re going to close them and start over.”

Starting over means not just closing these schools, but doing away with teacher tenure and replacing it with merit pay attached to student performance. It also means opening more charter schools. Blocking the way is the New Jersey Education Association, according to Christie. The NJEA is the Big Bad Wolf.

Maybe there is some truth to that, but there isn’t just one wolf bearing its teeth on the path to grandma’s high-property-taxed house. Let’s face it: Chris Christie isn’t Little Red Riding Hood.

Two hundred failing schools is unacceptable. But the state Department of Education’s website lists a total of 2,485 schools in New Jersey. That means less than 10 percent are failing. It would seem that the majority of schools, and the teachers inside them, are doing rather well. No doubt, students in failing schools can take little solace in that.

I agree 100 percent with the governor about tenure. I do not believe in guaranteed jobs for life. I do not accept the notion that the current form of tenure allows for the removal of poor-performing teachers. But eliminating tenure without having a viable alternative that does not leave teachers vulnerable to the whims of angry parents and school board members with agendas is equally unacceptable.

What I see as problematic in all the school-reform talk is that none of it acknowledges that while the state has a constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient education, students do not have a constitutional obligation to be willing participants. They can be forced to show up, but they cannot be forced to learn.

Teachers can motivate many students. Great teachers can work some miracles. But there are many factors from home life to language skills to neighborhood safety that affect how a child learns. Public schools are required to take in everybody.

Charter schools have not been shown to be universally better than public schools. Parents who push for their children to be in a charter school are equally likely to push for their children in a public school. One pushing parent is worth more than a room full of pushing Christies.

And I am sick and tired of hearing about the Robert Treat Academy in Newark. The charter school is by all accounts a very fine institution. But it also is the creation of one of the most powerful political figures in New Jersey, Stephen Adubato. Politicians visit it like devout Catholics visit Lourdes. Enough already.

The governor can close every poor performing school in New Jersey tomorrow and replace them with a charter school and there will still be failing schools because if those schools are required to teach everybody, they will have some students who will not get with the program. And if these charter schools toss out the students who do not meet their schools’ criteria, where do these students land?

There is a reason – a reason more complex than tenure – for failing schools. Schools don’t fail in Glen Rock, Ridgewood and Mendham for a reason and it has nothing to do with tenure. It’s stability. It’s parents. It’s safety. It’s many, many things.

The leadership of the NJEA remains a good target because it has been inflexible. It has put its interests ahead of it members. But less than 10 percent of the schools in New Jersey are chronically failing. If teachers, and yes, the NJEA, are to blame for 200 failing schools, they are also responsible for 2,285 schools that are succeeding.

Christie should take credit for raising issues that no public official has dared touch. Everything about education should be on the table – tenure, salaries, pensions, class sizes, federal and state mandates, charter schools – put them all on the table.

I’m sure the audience in Paramus was appreciative of the governor’s tough talk. The governor is passionate and, from my experience with him, it’s real. It’s not generated for the cameras or the polls. He is who he is.

He is a product of public schools. And he needs to remember that. Teachers and their contracts should be on the table; they should not be in the trash.

Alfred P. Doblin is the editorial page editor of The Record. Contact him at doblin@northjersey.com. Follow AlfredPDoblin on Twitter.

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