Gov. Chris Christie has agreed to a two-year delay in fully using the results of new standardized tests to evaluate New Jersey public school teachers, according to Statehouse and other sources. He also will reduce, from 30 percent to 10 and then 20 percent, how much the scores will count in future teacher evaluations. He will not, however, agree to delaying other uses of test results pending the work of a special study commission that would have at least two years to study the new testing program. The compromise, expected to form the basis of either an executive order or newly proposed regulations to be issued by Christie this week, is likely to make teacher unions and legislators happy but ignores the demands of less powerful parent groups.
(NOTE: Christie, it turns out, would not agree to the two-year delay for any use of student results. He agreed to a two-year delay in full implementation of the 30 percent weight given to test results. I apologize for the error).
Barring a change of heart by the teacher unions or key legislators, the compromise is likely to be put into effect in the fall. It would do nothing to prevent the tests themselves or their use for measuring student achievement.
“The tests are coming and they’re coming this year,” said one source close to the Statehouse negotiations. “They’re not going away and they won’t be studied forever.’’
An assembly bill with much stricter limits on the testing program sailed through the Assembly by a bipartisan, veto-proof, 72-4 margin with two abstentions. It was expected to be put up for a Senate vote the following week but the rare demonstration of actual legislative initiative and courage was, as expected, pulled by state Senate President and Christie-bro Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-Burlington).
Sweeney and others then went into negotiations to find a compromise and possibly avoid a veto override vote during which most Republican legislators would miraculously have a change of heart about the need for the legislation and rally around their political godfather.
Sweeney’s intervention—first signaled by the cold feet of state Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), chair of the Senate Education Committee who would not press for a vote on the Assembly bill—gives the Senate president and likely gubernatorial candidate an opportunity to kiss and make up with the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) and other school unions. The Senate President, who often is billed as a “labor leader,” has consistently betrayed public employees as favors to Christie and Christie’s virtual South Jersey co-governor, George Norcross, the Democratic political boss of South Jersey.
Without Sweeney, Christie would never have achieved the cuts in public employee pensions and benefits that Christie has used to portray himself as a national leader—and presidential candidate–who can work with Democrats. It would only confuse his presidential campaign for the Governor to have to explain how he uses Sweeney to achieve what he and Norcross want.
Without legislative intervention, the so-called PARCC tests, based on national—but called “state” for political reasons– Common Core curricular standards will be introduced in the coming school year. They also could have been used to measure teacher and school effectiveness.
The legislation, sponsored chiefly by Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex), would have imposed a moratorium on teacher, student, and school accountability uses of the testing program, although not the tests themselves, while a study commission—with representatives from a variety of groups and many politicians—decided what to do with New Jersey’s testing program.
NJEA officials already have both publicly and privately signaled their willingness to kill the legislation in favor of allowing Christie to do the deal without resort to legislation. “We could go either way,” said one NJEA official.
What no one is discussing, however, is how this “compromise” represents yet another stab in the back of those who hoped the Legislature might side with parents opposed to the whole concept of high-stakes testing. Consistently, Sweeney and Ruiz and Christie have made their own deals on important pieces of educational legislation.
The trio has, for example, buried long and persistent demands by state Sen. Ronald Rice (D-Essex) to investigate the failures of the state-operated school administration in Newark, headed by Christie agent Cami Anderson. They also have buried charter reform legislation, particularly because Norcross is using charter expansion to build his own gentrified and privately-operated charter school district in Camden—even naming some of the schools for his own family. Legislation designed to prevent the kind of school closings that have sent Newark into turmoil have been stripped of most provisions even before it was sent to Christie.
The NJEA and other groups might hail the testing compromise as a victory but, in the end, it’s likely only to bury public schools deeper under the weight of politics and privatization.