I had the pleasure of listening to Chris Christie address the Harvard Graduate School of Education on Friday (April 28, 2011). Here are some observations and a couple of crude telephone photographs whose only virtue is that they are originals
“Robert, you have been one of our best teachers this year. You are always here long before the morning bell and long after the afternoon bell. Your lesson plans are continually updated and innovative. Not only do your students love you, but by every measure we have your students are excelling. Parents call me and tell me how great you are at teaching their children and at communicating to them how their children are doing. I would like to ask you to come back next year and I would like to offer you a 4% raise.”
“Now Pamela, you are a lost cause. Pamela, we have all been disappointed again this year with your performance. You show up every day with the bell and you leave every day with the bell. Your lesson plans haven’t changed in years and your teaching shows it. Your students complain and the parents of your students complain all the time. Furthermore, the performance of your students is systematically well below average. I would like you to come back next year and I would like to offer you a 4% raise.”
And that is the problem with education in New Jersey.
Compounding that problem, Christie said, as he so often has, that the teachers unions in New Jersey are “a political thuggery operation” that puts the interests of their constituents and themselves, the union leaders, far above the interests of the students – if the students interests are ever considered at all.
Christie pointed out that 31 of New Jersey’s 500 plus school districts, the worst urban school districts, receive state and federal support to the tune of $16,000 per pupil per year, while the remaining 500 or so districts receive state and federal support of $2,900 per pupil per year. The cost of educating these urban school students comes out to something over $33,000 per pupil per year. (By comparison, the average cost of educating a pupil per year in Massachusetts is around $13,000).
Christie said: “New Jersey is the laboratory that proves that money does not equal performance.”
Christie said that when the New York Times Magazine called him to say they wanted to do a piece on him he worried that it might be the end of his career. And when they told him his picture would be on the cover he worried even more that it might be the end of his career. But he said that in the end the piece was fair, and that he was particularly pleased with the title. “They called me ‘the Disrupter.’ I plead guilt.”
Christie spoke for almost an hour, even though the forum moderator said that his remarks would last about 20 minutes. And the most amazing thing of all is this: Christie was greeted at Harvard, in Cambridge, with a standing ovation of the 400 or so attendees when he walked in, and he was saluted with a standing ovation by that audience when he finished.
Overall the remarkable thing is that 400 Christie supporters could be found in Cambridge. Because he didn’t win them all over – surely most of the listeners came to hear him as his fans. But many of the audience members were rank and file school of education graduate students and teachers. And they were more than polite. Most of the questions (he took perhaps fifteen or twenty) were supportive, almost conspiratorial, and no question was anything resembling hostile.
Perhaps the video will be available on line. It is well worth watching, because if Chris Christie ever becomes President of the United States, people will look at this as a milestone along his personal journey and a milestone in the transformation of K-12 education in America.
And those four hundred will be pleased to say, as I am pleased to say: “I was there.”