Sunday, September 11, 2016

Governor Christie’s Guide to Destroying a Great Education System #NJED

It breaks my heart to see what is happening in a state that I hold dear to my heart. I might now live in TX, but I was born and raised in NJ.  Both of my parents were public educators; my father an elementary principal in Hackettstown and my mother an elementary teacher in Flemington.  They both touched lives and impacted kids like countless other NJ educators. It takes a special person to consciously make a decision to earn less money while putting in an obscene amount of time outside the working day to help students reach their potential. Educators are, and have been, the cultivators of virtually every other profession. 

My entire public education career as a teacher (Watchung Hills) and principal (New Milford) was spent in the Garden State working in a system that was, and still is, regarded as one of the best in the nation.  This recognition has been validated by state-by-state data comparisons. Historically NJ is typically number one or two.  Students in the state routinely outperform their peers on the SAT, ACT, and NAEP from across the country.  This past year five of the top 100 public schools in America were from NJ.  

Instead of celebrating and strengthening a great public education system, Governor Christie has taken a dumfounding approach with his agenda. Who in their right mind attacks, berates, chastises, and bullies people in a profession who have made the conscious decision to make less money in order to impact kids? Are there some bad teachers and administrators? Of course, just like there are bad lawyers, doctors, accountants, and politicians (hint, hint). However, just like any other profession the amount of bad educators pales in comparison to those who go above and beyond to help kids learn. 

Image credit: Drew Sheneman

Let’s look at some of the ridiculous decisions Governor Christie has made to derail a great education system:

  • Reduced state funding for schools over the years to pay for tax cuts for his rich friends. His latest wisdom is articulated in this article: Chris Christie’s Education Plan Is Shocking: He Wants to Give to the Rich and Take From the Poor. 
  • Eliminated cost of living adjustments (COLA) for all retired educators who gave their all for kids
  • Vetoed a mandatory school recess bill, even though research had shown how important it is to student learning.
  • Pushed forward a few unfunded mandates (Common Core, PARCC) that have taken away precious funds from improving what really matters. Schools had to front the money for quality professional development, curriculum revision, and technology to support these mandates. Years later many states have backed away from PARCC. The once strong 26-member consortium has now dwindled to 7. For all the hoopla, PARCC has told us nothing we didn't already know from previous assessments. To make matters worse, NJ has been the only state to make this a graduation requirement in the near future.
  • Imposed superintendent caps to drive out some of our best leaders. Many states have welcomed them with open arms and pocket books as good leaders are often worth every penny
  • Followed through with a value-added system for evaluating educators, which by the way has no supporting research. He doubled down on this recently by increasing Student Growth Percentile (SGP) scores to 30% of an educator’s overall evaluation.  This latest change was pushed out on Wednesday, August 31, just days before schools welcomed back students. On Monday, a few days later, Education Commissioner David Hespe resigned. A bit shady, huh? In all, the new regulations completely give up on quality teaching and simply shoot for compliance. This was most likely done because people were overburdened with paperwork, but no consideration was given as to the effect of the regulations. The entire SGP issue is a nightmare as in some cases they rely on arbitrary numbers 
  • Refused to fully fund the public pension system that he committed to in 2012 while pushing all the blame for the state’s economic woes on teachers, policemen, firemen, and other public sectors committed to the well being of all.

Instead of developing rational strategies based on sound research to support districts, schools, and educators who need the help the most, Christie has implemented a one-size-fits-all approach that goes against the tenets of good pedagogy. The NJDOE has done his bidding long enough and need to begin to push back against his destruction of public education in NJ. It would also be wise of the NJ State Board of Education to take a hard look at how their rubber stamp on Christie’s education agenda has not a shred of supporting research or evidence of success.

NJ teachers, administrators, and teachers continue to rise in the face of this adversity because that’s what professionals dedicated to kids do. Even in these challenging times, schools have risen above the negative rhetoric to innovate and focus on learning that truly matters. A few years ago I challenged Commissioner Hespe to come to my school and see what learning can and should look like. My call on social media went unanswered, but that didn't stop NJDOE representatives from calling my superintendent and asking him to get his principal (me) under control. This only strengthened my resolve.

Keep doing what’s best for kids, as you, not Governor Christie, know what it is like to actually work in a public school.  You made the conscious decision to be a difference maker as opposed to making more money in another profession. Your work matters and NJ’s success on the national stage speaks for itself. Thank you for all that you do and keep making those of us fellow Garden State educators proud.


  1. Eric - We once met a long time ago at a NJPSA conference and you impressed me with your knowledge base of technology and inspiring teachers to implement it in the classroom. I have to say this article is spot on. Beyond the clear analysis you offer in relation to the Christie Administration's dismantling of public education over the past 6 years is the unintended consequences that have led to most everything that had to do with progress being halted at the administrative levels trying pinch every dollar that is available. Though we are in the business of education, the "business" aspect of needing technology resources for instructional purposes has truly gone the way of the dinosaur. When we have a few dollars set aside for curriculum or instructional purposes, they are put on hold to see how the budget may turn out. Maybe not every district is in the same situation but I must say in my 19 years of public education service I have never seen such a time where hope is literally not part of our every day thinking in terms of "tomorrow will be a brighter day". We never let the kids know nor do we ever change our mission of care for all of our students. However, I have never wished for time to hurry up as much as I do now so that the leadership can change and perhaps we can see our way back to thinking this profession is valued and appreciated for the work that we do. A great piece of writing and if our leaders don't listen to those that are the most respected in the profession, who will they listen to? C. Snyder

  2. I would add to your list the fact that his last minute meddling with his Secretary of Education's "Race to the Top" application cost NJ $400,000,000 in federal education grant aid.

  3. He's proud of the fact he destroyed the Camden Police Department and its union.
    He doesn't care about the lives he ruined in the process because he thinks it makes him look electable.
    Worst governor we ever had!

  4. He is one reason many of the more deficated and experienced teachers have retired early. Experience is hard to replace. Christie has no clue what it takes to be a teacher and what we do. He is now the laughing stock of NJ.