Chris Christie: How not to engage in a fruitful debate on educational reform

Check out the following clip.

Someone on his campaign staff should sit him down point by point and explain to him a few things.

One, his understanding of the history of the educational system is a bit off. We actually do not have the same system we had in the 1800s and the classroom is certainly not entirely teacher-centered anymore. The diversity of teachers’ strategies is great and different teachers use different techniques. There are many remnants of the old agrarian system seen far and wide for sure, but to act as if teaching now is identical to the way it was is a bit misleading. We have had the child-centered Progressive Movement (ironically, people with political leanings similar Christie called this movement inefficient and favored teacher-centered instruction). Then we had many calls for changes to curricula in realms of science in the 1950s and then the 1980s. This led to labs in the classroom and funding for research on innovative practices. The point is, to paint all teaching and all classrooms with a single brush stroke is not fair. Yes, some teachers in K-12 education stand in front of the classroom and lecture, but many do not and the system has evolved quite a bit in the last hundred years.

Two, teachers do not get 4-5 months off a year and work a lot more than the hours that children spend  in the classroom. When I taught high school I worked 6-7 days a week for 10 months of the year doing school related activities. I distinctly remember grading papers at my younger sister’s college graduation ceremony and then having to work as a landscaper that summer because my “fulltime salary for a part-time job” was not enough to cover those months while paying my college loans among other bills. If I had a family at the time I would have been screwed. I know Christie has an adversarial relationship with teacher unions, but he needs to get a grip when it comes to talking about teaching and teachers.

Three, the best educational systems in the world often do not have school choice programs and some have actually suffered when they have implemented one. The Guardian featured an interesting piece about this recently in their newspaper. Christie’s references to Newark and Camden are interesting, but a large body of research shows there is tremendous variation in charter school outcomes (just as the same is true for traditional public schools). The charter debate is certainly one I am on board for having, but my point is that the issue is not as straightforward as Christie makes it out to be.

Four, I think he and I would have an interesting conversation about trends of technology and what they mean to the classroom (considering that falls under the umbrella of my dissertation). Honestly, he is least off compared to the rest of the points on this post, but it is still a pretty shallow understanding on the issue. There are many more reasons than “teacher unions” as to why we are not using iPads in every classroom.

All of these points in mind, I should say, hey, he argues well and is good on his feet, so I should vote for him due to style not substance, right? Not so much. Christie tell your staffers to share with you a more accurate view of teaching and educational policy. Right now you are just spouting (grossly) politically colored rhetoric that is not pushing debates on educational reform forward.

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