Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Thursday, June 03, 2010

An Apple for the Governor

I didn’t need to turn to the comics yesterday for a laugh. I only had to go to the front page of the Bergen Record and read their propaganda – I mean, account – of N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s rejection of the school reform application (The Race to the Top).

Gov. Christie simply didn’t think it was worth $400 million to reward bad teachers. After weeks of allowing the schoolyard bullies – the teachers unions – to push around his Education Commissioner, Bret Schundler, Christie put his considerable foot down and tossed the whole package out.

The Bergen Record’s subsequent article was a comic strip page of laughable quotes from Liberal politicians and teachers union representatives. The Bergen Record said the 11th hour change came as a shock to New Jersey Education Association officials.

“Deep disappointment, utter frustration, and total outrage!” cried NJEA President Barbara Keshisian. “The biggest losers in this fiasco are the students!”

Yeah – motivated teachers. That’s a real game-changer for the kids, all right.  They have a right to be shocked, though, considering the coverage the Bergen Record gave their protests in Trenton, a full, two-page center spread, complete with color photos of union thugs in death masks. Now there's inspiration for you (the Tea Parties got one notice, and that only for the national rally, even though the Hackensack Tea Party took place in the Bergen Record's hometown).

“But union buy-in wins points in the stiff competition” for the grant, The Bergen Record reminded us, noting that it had taken weeks to hammer out the compromise to the satisfaction of both parties.

Nobody told me, Christie replied. He sent Schundler back to the chalkboard over the holiday weekend to restore the vital principles that had been replaced by schoolwide bonuses and seniority-based job protection.

“These are core principles I’ve been campaigning on since I decided to seek the job,” he declared. Laugh at that one, Liberals. I was there, at the Morristown Tea Party in April 2009, when he pulled the education question out of the hat and realized he had to answer it to the satisfaction of the 2,000 constituents on the Green that afternoon, and all those he’d meet later on the campaign trail.

New Jersey takes its education seriously. It has to laugh when it hears lines like this from union officials.

“Clearly there are enormous disagreements on how to proceed,” said NJEA spokesman Stephen Wollmer. “That doesn’t engender much confidence among the ranks of teachers.”

Parents love it, though. This is what Christie wrote on the application:

“…no single factor influences [a] student’s academic success more than the quality of his or her teachers…Special interests that have selfishly thwarted that reform should not be permitted to hold good ideas hostage.”

That engenders plenty of confidence in the voters. By enhancing schools’ ability to measure student learning and use that data to evaluate teachers, merit pay would reward the best teachers and motivate other teachers to improve.

But according to the NJEA, and the Bergen Record, “Merit pay…undermines teamwork” and “penalizes teachers facing challenging kids.”

So it’s all the fault of the kids, after all. Imagine that? Thought it was the kids being punished here, but it turns out it’s the teachers. The kids challenging the teachers instead of the teachers challenging the kids. Well, since the teachers won’t challenge the kids, then the governor will have to challenge the teachers.

Democrats for Education Reform spokesman Charles Barone called Gov. Christie’s approach “ham-handed.” Still, Barone thinks the application has an outside chance without union support. He expressed surprise at Schundler’s many compromises, in light of Christie’s conservative education agenda.

His quote in the paper doesn’t quite make sense. He claims the state needed NJEA support so badly that they shredded the application. But it sounds as though that’s what Christie did after the unions signed off on the application. He claims that now it is a strong application, albeit with a lot of collateral damage.

But Frank Belluscios of the N.J. School Boards Association asserts that union support was never integral to the application.

But on to the comics.

N.J. Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver blasted the application rejection as an “abrupt about-face” by Christie, saying it seriously jeopardized New Jersey’s chances of winning the gold ring.

They further claimed he was influenced by conservative pundits who sing his praises in their columns and on the radio.

Sweeney, a Democrat, groused, “The governor apparently has decided that hearing good things about himself over the radio is more valuable than $400 million for our schools.”

He goes on to say that the compromise “was crafted in ‘good faith’ among everyone involved and now that ‘unity’s’ been blown up because some talking heads disagreed.”

Reading good things about themselves and their unions in the pages of the Bergen Record is more valuable than merit pay, apparently.

And here’s another howler from Sweeney: “If the governor was as thick-skinned as he likes to make people think, he would shrug off the criticism and stand by the team that put together the application.”

The final laugh of the article goes to U.S. Education Secretary Anne Duncan.

“This took a lot of hard work and political courage,” she said in a news release after the deadline. “It required administrators, elected officials, union leaders, teachers, and advocates to work together and embrace a common reform agenda.”

It required a courageous governor in a corrupt state to throw the unions overboard. I hope somebody puts an apple on Gov. Christie’s desk.

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