U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan deserves high marks for empowering states to be innovative and take risks to bolster school success, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said.
As Democrats, the administration has political cover to approach teachers unions, Christie, a Republican, said in an interview for Bloomberg Radio’s “Bloomberg EDU with Jane Williams” program. Duncan has supported charter schools and evaluating teachers based on student performance.
“It was necessary for it to be a Democratic president and education secretary to do this, because they can go to the teachers union, which has been their normal supportive constituency, and say to them ‘listen, we are your friends. We have a history of being your friends politically but there’s a need for change in this country and we are going to make it happen,’” said Christie, who announced last month he wouldn’t join the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
In June, New Jersey announced a pilot program to help turn around chronically failing schools by allowing private management companies to operate them.
The companies have a track record of “coming in and taking over failed public schools and transforming them through the use of their private-sector methods and the greater flexibility that comes along with not having to deal with all of the union work rules that we have to deal with in order to bring greater innovation and success to folks,” Christie said.
In the case of Newark, New Jersey’s largest city, just 23 percent of students who entered ninth grade this year will earn a high school diploma, and the state spends $24,000 per pupil per year for that failure, Christie said. Money is important but it’s not the be all and end all, he said.
“What we’ve learned in our experiment in New Jersey, which I think has been one of the most aggressive experiments in terms of state-funding equalization for urban districts, has been, that it is not the answer,” Christie said. “It is part of it. You also have to change the way you are dealing with teaching children in these districts.”
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