What Will It Take for NJEA to Sign on to RTTT?

The Record argues that if NJ is to have any shot at winning Race To The Top dollars at the next round in June then Gov. Christie needs to trade in his “hammer” and extend an “olive branch” to NJEA. In turn, the NJEA leadership should agree to “a limited experiment with merit pay” and urge local affiliates to sign off on NJ’s application so that we can reap the rewards of the federal education reform competition.

Very civilized. Let’s play it out.

Certainly, Acting Ed Comm. Schundler is a model of self-control. At NJSBA’s State of Our Schools forum Saturday morning (see our post here), Schundler eschewed even a single iteration of the teacher’s union, choosing various veiled allusions like “certain engines pushing costs” and how “we will not surrender to an unsustainable situation.” Nary, also, a mention of RTTT or merit pay or charter schools. It’s possible to imagine a scenario where Schundler sits down in a room with NJEA President Barbara Keshishian and Exec. Dir. Vince Giordano and courteously proposes some sort of compromise: a pilot program of merit pay in, say, a suburban district and an urban district; the closure of a Camden High or a Trenton Central High and its replacement with a KIPP school; a salary freeze for one year; and a commitment to working with the DOE on a competitive RTTT application with NJEA support. Reasonable, right? Can you feel the goodwill circulating in the room?

Maybe not. The problem is less with Gov. Christie’s “gloves-off,” “strong-man” approach, to use the Record’s description, then with NJEA’s relentless drumbeat of resistance to non-negotiable elements of RTTT. For example, merit pay: go to NJEA’s website for a highlighted column from newly-named Teacher Of the Year Maryann Woods-Murphy who explains that “this good teacher is speaking up to say no to merit pay, because it is the wrong thing for our students, our schools and our profession.” Elsewhere on the NJEA homepage, Ms. Keshishian states, “Merit pay has been proven to be a destructive force in public schools.” How about responses to even the mildest concessions in compensation like capping sick day buy-outs at $15,000? From Ms. Keshishian: “NJEA will oppose this provision of S-4, because we believe it is an unwarranted intrusion into the collective bargaining process.” Pay freeze? Here’s the facebook group “New Jersey Teachers United Against Gov. Christie’s Pay Freeze,” 50,000 members strong (though there is a fair amount of dissent there).

Will the “olive branch” do it? We confess perplexity at The Record’s recommendation because it’s unclear what this peace offering should contain. Changing the tone of the debate is fine – nothing wrong with less bluster and more niceties – but that’s unlikely to get the job done. What will it take to convince NJEA’s execs to sign on to a substantive RTTT application? Teachers, chime in.

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