Proposed reforms will not make things better

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:19

    While Governor Christie is expressing his disappointment that during the past year he was not able to get his so-called package of educational reforms through the legislature, the rest of us can breath a sigh of relief. It is true that Christie's reforms would change education in our state, however those changes will not improve education. In fact, his reforms would actually weaken the high level education enjoyed by the majority of New Jersey's students. The Governor argues that his reforms are needed because certain foreign countries like Finland and Singapore, consistently out-score our students. He ignores one main point in this argument. The countries in question have achieved their success by implementing practices opposite those he is advocating. In Finland, for example, teachers have fewer teaching hours and more time for planning and collaboration. High stakes testing is kept to a minimum, so that time is not wasted on test preparation. Finnish students spend their time learning to think critically and creatively; tenure is protected; teachers are compensated based on experience and level of training; teachers are respected in law and practice; and the improvement of instruction is encouraged from the bottom up, not from the top down. Christie and his reformer friends also cite the lack of success in our urban schools as a reason to change education throughout the state. New Jersey's schools consistently perform in the top tier of school systems around the nation and the world. If you control for poverty, our schools are among the very best. Yet the Governor wants to reform our entire school system. Worst of all, few of the Governor's suggestions for reform will have any positive impact on the delivery of instruction, even in those schools most in need help. Ask yourself: which New Jersey public school would be improved by giving public money to a private school through the back door voucher system proposed by the Governor? Will vouchers help your child's teacher get the books and materials he or she needs to do her job? If a teacher's pay depends on how well her or his students do on a state test, will the teacher focus more on well-balanced, in-depth understanding, or on each child learning just enough to past the test? (For the most part, research tells us that the two are mutually exclusive.) Most of the "reforms" proposed by the Governor grow from the view that schools should be run like a business. Rich people who have spent little time in a classroom, and who might just get a bit richer if their "reforms" were enacted, are asked for input, while the ideas of teachers, who base their suggestions on years of experience and research are rejected. When they disagree with the Governor, they are called thugs and obstructionists. Yet is the business model really the proper model for a successful educational system? The Finns don't think so, and our own experience over the last 30 years of so-called business based "reform" also argues against it. If the Governor really wants instruction to improve throughout the state, he can start by increasing the taxes on top one percent of New Jersey's earners and using the money to fully fund education as required by existing law. He can assure that not just reading and math are emphasized, but that a complete and thorough education, as mandated by our state Constitution, is made available to all students, including meaningful offerings in science, the social sciences, civics, the arts, and physical education and health. He can become actively involved in assuring each classroom and school building is structurally sound, and up to date. He can offer legislation that will keep education free, and public. Ed Selby Branchville