The state’s largest teachers union said Wednesday that a package of bills proposed by Gov. Chris Christie to reform the state’s education system is an attempt to impose a corporate culture on public schools.
New Jersey Education Association spokesman Steve Wollmer said the Christie proposals, which include changes to teacher tenure, the institution of merit pay, teacher evaluations and elimination of layoff protections for senior teachers are not based on any sound research.
“This is yet another example of a corporate model that is not based on educationally sound research. The research on using test scores to evaluate teachers is crystal clear or at least it points in a crystal clear direction,” Wollmer said. “It doesn’t work.”
Christie made his proposals in a press conference Wednesday and said he will be seeking sponsors for seven bills among both parties in both houses of the Legislature. Among the bills he hopes to have introduced is one that would increase teacher pay based on teaching a hard-to-staff subject or teaching in a lower-performing school.
Asked if any of the proposals had merit, Wollmer named two – paying teachers more for taking on additional responsibilities and speeding up tenure revocation hearings – but said even in those instances, Christie’s plan to implement them was off base.
“We don’t object and have supported in the past paying teachers more for greater responsibility,” Wollmer said. “Master teachers or mentor pay is something we support.”
But the spokesman said paying teachers more for teaching subjects such as math or physics that are hard to staff is not supported by rank and file teachers.
“There is an implicit assumption that because it’s hard to attract a math teacher or physics teacher means that person should make more,” Wollmer said. “The physics teacher’s kids are only going to do as well as the third-grade teacher prepares them to do. If you talk to teachers they don’t think it’s right to somehow attract a level of importance for the work they do just based on the number of people who do it.”
Wollmer also said that Christie’s proposal to speed up tenure hearings puts the impetus on an administrative law judge to work faster. A proposal floated by the NJEA late last year would take hearings out of the hands of a judge altogether and give it to an independent, certified arbitrator to decide.
A proposal from the governor that would eliminate the “last in first out” provision for teacher layoffs is simply an attempt to justify education spending cuts, Wollmer said. Allowing an older, more experienced and higher-paid teacher to leave before a younger less-experienced teacher does nothing for a school but lower the overall experience level.
“The reason the governor wants to do away with seniority is if he can get rid of an $80,000 salary and replace it with a $40,000 rookie. If you can do that you’ve just covered $40,000 in cuts. This guy is always trying to cut from education at minimal political cost,” Wollmer said.
Christie said the bulk of the changes, in particular the evaluations, would take effect beginning in the 2012-13 school year.