Education reform is too important to get wrong
With so many dubious ideas being floated in the current education reform debate, it has never been more important for educators to take the lead. That is why NJEA is pursuing an aggressive, progressive reform agenda. When legislators return to work for the lame duck session immediately following this month’s elections, they will find strong bills, filled with proven, research-based reform initiatives, to support.
Why is legislation needed?
Education reform is on the Legislature’s agenda, and it’s certainly on the governor’s. Several bills, covering everything from vouchers to public charter schools to tenure, have already been introduced. Others are certain to follow. While some of the current legislation is positive and has already earned NJEA’s support, other bills and proposals are deeply flawed.
But it is not enough simply to oppose bad ideas. NJEA has an obligation to provide better alternatives that deliver the reform our members and the public deserve. We also must protect our public schools and the people who work in them from the harmful effects that several current proposals would have if they became law.
NJEA has long supported research-based reforms that are proven to benefit students in the classroom. Those are not always the easiest reforms to implement, but they are the only ones New Jersey should pursue. The increased public discussion of education reform, and the legislative desire to address the issue, makes this the ideal opportunity to push for reforms that will work.
NJEA’s reform agenda is broad. It addresses issues being discussed by Gov. Christie and other critics of New Jersey’s public schools, such as evaluation and tenure. It tackles matters they ignore, such as access to preschool, full-day kindergarten, and parental involvement. It also confronts issues that are important to the public, including greater accountability for public charter schools and protections against the private sector’s profiting from public education.
Nurturing a culture of teaching excellence
The centerpiece of NJEA’s reform agenda is a proposal to revolutionize evaluations and to tie those evaluations to a better, more efficient tenure system. It addresses the mistaken notion that tenure is “a job for life” while keeping protections in place to ensure that members’ jobs are not threatened for inappropriate personal or political reasons that has nothing to do with classroom effectiveness.
Public school choice with real accountability
Public school choice is important to many parents. It is also widely available in New Jersey. In many districts, charter schools, magnet schools, vocational schools, and traditional public schools operate side by side. NJEA supports many forms of public school choice, with high accountability standards for those schools.
Starting early and finishing strong:
quality schools for every child
In the current education reform debate, far too little attention is paid to the kinds of research-based, effective reforms that will raise student achievement immediately. While some of these reforms require additional investment, that investment is proven to pay itself back many times over though a more educated, better paid workforce and lower long term social costs.
What are the harmful proposals that must be stopped?
The education reform debate is a vigorous one, and it should be. But it must be informed by research experience and common sense. Too often, those elements are missing, and the result is proposals that work better as bumper stickers than as real-world educational policy.
Why is NJEA’s reform agenda so broad?
NJEA’s reform agenda goes well beyond most of what is being discussed publicly. It has to. If we focus on one issue—teacher evaluation, for example—at the expense of other things like mentoring, professional development, early childhood education, and family involvement, we will not achieve the results we are seeking.
Others may prefer to promote education reform that addresses only a few narrow issues. They may want to cling to the discredited notion that making teachers solely accountable for student test scores will translate into better results. They may try to pretend that putting more emphasis on testing will somehow increase real learning. But educators know better, and the research backs us up.
Our agenda looks at all the factors that play into student success. It covers quality teaching, the opportunities provided to students, and the role of families. It makes a real effort to drive improvement in all of those areas. It is ambitious. But when it comes to our students’ future, we cannot afford to think small or limit our vision.
Education reform is too important to get wrong. NJEA and its members have an obligation to get it right.