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11-14-11 Education in the News - Commissioner Cerf presents at NJEA Convention
Press of Atlantic City - Acting state education commissioner addresses teachers at NJEA convention “…Cerf said he is willing to work with the union on teacher evaluations, even postponing implementation for an extra year if necessary. But, he said, there will always be areas where the state and union do not agree. "I represent the interests of the children of New Jersey," Cerf said. "In many areas, the interests of the union and children are aligned. But there are areas where they do not overlap, such as seniority. You may think (seniority) is fair, but you can't argue it's in the best interest of children."

Philadelphia Inquirer - Wide gap still separates Christie, teachers union

NJ Press Media - Cerf takes moderate tone with teachers

Press of Atlantic City - Acting state education commissioner addresses teachers at NJEA convention “…Cerf said he is willing to work with the union on teacher evaluations, even postponing implementation for an extra year if necessary. But, he said, there will always be areas where the state and union do not agree.

"I represent the interests of the children of New Jersey," Cerf said. "In many areas, the interests of the union and children are aligned. But there are areas where they do not overlap, such as seniority. You may think (seniority) is fair, but you can't argue it's in the best interest of children."

 

Press of Atlantic City - Acting state education commissioner addresses teachers at NJEA convention

By DIANE D'AMICO, Education WriterpressofAtlanticCity.com | 0 comments

ATLANTIC CITY - After being snubbed last year, teachers gave a cautious welcome Friday to Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf at the New Jersey Education Association annual conference at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

Cerf brought a far more conciliatory tone than teachers have heard from his boss, Gov. Chris Christie. But sometimes the two sides appeared like divorced parents, trying to do the best for the children but still arguing over deep-seated disagreements.

Cerf got applause from the crowd when he mentioned the high ranking of New Jersey's education system nationally, and gave teachers a lot of the credit.

But they rolled their eyes when he said that the DOE and governor are not against unions, and laughed outright when he gave high marks to Washington D.C.'s teacher-evaluation system. When he challenged them to look at D.C's data, saying he'd bet $1 right there that he was right, a teacher told him to put the dollar instead into teacher pensions.

Still, teachers said later they were appreciative he came, especially after then Acting Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks did not come last year as the governor's relationship with the NJEA deteriorated.

"I think the mood coming out of the Department (of Education) is that they want to work with us more," said Stephanie Tarr, a teacher at Cedar Creek High School in Egg Harbor City. "It was nice that he did come in person, even if we didn't like everything he said."

She said can see them working together on curriculum and academic standards, and she would hope they could work together on teacher evaluations. But, she said, they are opposed to merit pay because it isn't effective in a system that is based on collaboration, not competition.

"Teachers want feedback, and they want to improve and have their work recognized," she said.

Erland Chau, a teacher at Mainland Regional High School and a school-board member in Northfield, said Cerf talked a lot about reaching students who are not succeeding, but the state has provided no money to offer extra programs.

"I don't think he knows what it's like for teachers in the classroom," Chau said. "I don't see the tools coming from the state to help us."

While acknowledging the challenges facing low-income students, Cerf insisted it was a myth that those students could not succeed.

Chau said at Mainland low-income students consistently underperform on state tests.

"We've raised scores, but that group is always lower," he said. "That should be the state's focus."

Cerf said he is willing to work with the union on teacher evaluations, even postponing implementation for an extra year if necessary. But, he said, there will always be areas where the state and union do not agree.

"I represent the interests of the children of New Jersey," Cerf said. "In many areas, the interests of the union and children are aligned. But there are areas where they do not overlap, such as seniority. You may think (seniority) is fair, but you can't argue it's in the best interest of children."

Contact Diane D'Amico:

609-272-7241

DDamico@pressofac.com

Philadelphia Inquirer - Wide gap still separates Christie, teachers union

November 13, 2011|By Matt Katz, Inquirer Trenton Bureau

ATLANTIC CITY - When Gov. Christie's education emissary waded into New Jersey's annual teachers union convention here last week, he brought none of his boss' artillery to that enemy territory.

Noting at the start of his speech that he was a former high school teacher, acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf used conciliatory language. He joked at crowd interruptions and pledged to work with the New Jersey Education Association toward common goals.

In other words, it was not a "Christie" speech.

Cerf's words Friday, coupled with the NJEA's recent release of its own education "reform agenda," indicated a possible thawing in relations between the state's largest teachers union and the Christie administration.

Possible, but unlikely.

After the speech, NJEA executive director Vincent Giordano said his relationship with Cerf had recently "improved significantly." There also have been "cordial, civil, and productive" meetings between the NJEA and George E. Norcross 3d, the state's most powerful unelected Democrat and a key Christie ally in the education debate, he said.

But Giordano had no warm words for Christie, who he said had turned the union into a "whipping boy."

Asked at a news conference last week if the NJEA's new proposals were a sign of possible compromise, Christie dismissed them.

"Don't waste your time" even reading them, Christie advised a reporter.

The war between Christie and the state's public-employee unions, particularly the NJEA, has defined the governor's term. He has proposed a dramatic agenda for overhauling the school system and declared education his top policy priority.

Christie wants to change the tenure system for teachers so that continued employment is connected more to performance evaluations than hiring dates. He wants to increase pay for those who work in tough schools. And he has expanded the charter-school program, signing a law last week, for example, that allows some parochial schools to be converted into secular charters.

In pushing his plans, Christie has argued publicly with teachers, noted the six-figure salaries of union leaders, and characterized his opponents as selfish power-mongers who don't care about children.

The NJEA has responded by plowing millions of dollars into anti-Christie TV ads. It even chartered a plane to fly along the Jersey Shore with a banner that touted its millionariesforchristie.com website, which describes how Christie cut millions of dollars for schools but has refused to raise taxes on the rich.

Last week, the Christie-NJEA relationship entered a new phase.

First came Tuesday's legislative election, which maintained the political makeup in Trenton. The NJEA had withheld endorsements from Democrats who supported a Christie law that increased public employees' contributions for pension and health benefits, but those Democrats were reelected nonetheless.

That means the NJEA must contend with a contingent of Democrats, unofficially led by South Jersey's Norcross, that supports some of Christie's education plans.

The other development was the NJEA's release of its own "aggressive, progressive reform agenda."

Mostly a compilation of previous plans, it would add a fourth year to the current three-year wait for tenure, allowing time for additional mentorship. And the dismissal process for a poorly performing tenured teacher would be streamlined to make it faster and cheaper.

As for teacher evaluations, the NJEA advocated including student test scores as part of the scoring system - a key element of Christie's proposal. But it would take into account factors such as student poverty or disruptive family situations including divorce.

And broad disagreements remain about how the educator evaluations would be used.

On Friday, in a packed conference room at the Atlantic City Convention Center, Cerf told hundreds of teachers that neither he nor Christie has a problem with teachers.

"For all of the swirl of words that go back and forth - and for some reason, this arena seems to attract a high-decibel discourse - I really make a point of trying to convey the depth of my appreciation," Cerf said.

The Christie administration is not "against" unions, he said.

"Oh, come on!" one teacher yelled in response.

"We are not against unions, and hear me on this: We are for policies that will advance student learning and narrow the shameful, shameful learning gap in this state," Cerf said.

He noted that New Jersey students are among the highest-ranked in the nation, but said that claim cannot be made for children in the state's poorest districts, such as Camden.

This is the crux of Christie's argument. The governor noted last week that only 23 percent of Newark high school students graduate in four years despite $100,000 per pupil - most of it from the state - spent to educate them during that time.

One of Christie's proposed remedies is the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which the NJEA staunchly opposes. It would grant companies tax credits to fund scholarships that inner-city students could use to attend school elsewhere.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) also opposes the plan. And Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) said last week that the state's education system was "not broken." Under pressure to separate themselves from the Republican governor's policies, they may have little willingness to rush Christie's education overhaul through the Legislature.

Less sweeping proposals, such as changing the process for firing bad teachers, could fare better.

"Some [teachers] are bad. There, I said it," Cerf declared Friday. When he added that there were poor performers in all fields, including commissioners of education, a voice in the crowd yelled "yes!"

Another teacher offered one more group that does a poor job: "Governors!"

Still, Cerf heard polite applause after his speech. It wasn't necessarily the administration's proposals that made them angry, teachers said. It was Christie's rhetoric.

"The vitriol that has come out toward educators in the last two years is real and it's palpable, and it has come from our collective boss," said Marie Corfield, a Flemington art teacher who unsuccessfully ran for the Assembly after getting into a town-hall argument with Christie that was caught on video.

During a question-and-answer period, Corfield told Cerf that Christie had ignited so many online attacks against them that "a lot of people in this room are afraid now to admit they are teachers."

Christie said last week that he would like to be invited to speak at a future NJEA convention.

"All he's got to do is pick up a phone and call," Giordano said Friday. But "there's a lot of scorched ground we have to cover before we have that kind of an open forum here. . . .

"I'd like to hear him say, 'It's a new day, a new dawn.' "

Christie and Teachers Union Plans

Teacher Tenure

Christie: Teachers could lose tenure based on their evaluations.

NJEA: Require teachers to work for four years, instead of the current three, before becoming eligible for tenure. A mentor would be required in the first year. The union had already proposed moving tenure-charge cases from courts to an arbitrator for quicker processing.

School Choice

Christie: Allow students easier movement to other public schools. Use corporate tax credits to fund scholarships that students in some low-performing districts could use at other public or private schools.

NJEA: Let some colleges approve and  regulate charter schools and broaden existing options within school districts or in other public schools. Do not use public money for scholarships to

Christie: Base a large portion of a retooled teacher-evaluation system on measurable standards, such as students' improvement on standardized tests.

NJEA: Do not rely more heavily on standardized tests.

Recruiting Teachers to Troubled Schools

Christie: Allow low-performing districts to pay higher salaries for top teachers moving from other districts.

NJEA: Experienced teachers who switch districts would be eligible for tenure in two years instead of the current three.

Merit Pay

Christie: Pay teachers, in part, based on student outcomes, such as standardized test scores.

NJEA: The union has opposed singling out teachers for merit pay based on test scores. Its new plan calls for teacher leaders to be appointed and eligible for higher salaries, a concept similar to one Christie supports.

School Management

Christie: Have education-management organizations - possibly including for-profit companies - run some struggling schools.

NJEA: Do not allow for-profit firms to run schools.

SOURCE: Associated Press


Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355, mkatz@phillynews.com, or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at philly.com/christiechronicles.

 

NJ Press Media - Cerf takes moderate tone with teachers

12:12 AM, Nov. 12, 2011 |

JASON METHOD

New Jersey Press Media

 

ATLANTIC CITY — It was a change in tone.

Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf came to the teachers union convention Friday and told educators that he appreciated and valued them and wanted to listen to their concerns.

Cerf also praised the leadership of the New Jersey Education Association, telling the teachers twice that they were “well represented.”

“Let’s agree to put children first,” Cerf said near the end of his hourlong address, which was attended by some 200 teachers and union officials. “Let’s find areas where we agree and work on them.”

Later Cerf added: “I really would love to engage the NJEA much more substantially.”

Afterward, NJEA Executive Director Vincent Giordano said he appreciated Cerf’s comments.

“It should be this, an open, cordial, professional conversation,” Giordano said. “You have a person here that is trying to find common ground.”

It was a sharp contrast to the first two years of Gov. Chris Christie’s term, as the governor, his education leaders and NJEA leadership exchanged political broadsides over pension and benefit reforms and Christie’s proposed changes to teacher tenure and other education policies.

Cerf did not back down on the administration’s proposal to change tenure laws that would force teachers to demonstrate proficiency to earn and keep the job protections. But he said he was open to delaying a statewide evaluation system for a year.

“We need to have a discussion, which I look forward to having with your leadership, about how to do this,” Cerf said. “We can have the discussion about whether to use another year to refine it, to improve the system, to generate collaborative buy-in.”

Cerf was greeted with polite applause before and after his address. During his remarks, there were scoffs, catcalls and some murmuring, but mostly the crowd just listened.

Despite the much-publicized battles, the political landscape appears to have shifted since the state’s unions lost a key battle over pension and benefit reform in June.

The NJEA has been holding a series of private meetings with Cerf and has also met with Democratic leader George Norcross, who has said he favors education reform.

Leaders from both parties have signaled that a teacher tenure law will pass by the end of the current legislative session in January. New charter school laws, or a test school voucher program, may also be considered.

Under the administration’s proposal, teachers would lose tenure protections if they receive two consecutive years of poor performance reviews. The state is running pilot projects in 11 districts to help determine the best ways to judge teacher performance.

In his address, Cerf said research shows that effective teachers are the single largest factor in student success. Therefore, teachers need to be rewarded for excellence, removed when incompetent and held accountable for results.

Cerf credited teachers with federal test scores that showed New Jersey schools are among the top in the country. But he also lamented the fact that the same scores showed the achievement gap between poor and wealthier students is near the widest in the country.

The state, local and federal governments spend a total of $25 billion a year on primary and secondary schooling in New Jersey each year, Cerf said. Therefore, the argument that not enough money is being spent on education holds little weight, he said.

And although teachers face legitimate challenges when they teach children in poverty, those social issues should not be a barrier, Cerf said.

Cerf said he was not wedded to the idea that all school districts should offer merit pay. Seniority is still an important factor, but proven teacher effectiveness should hold greater weight in determining which teachers stay during a layoff, he added.

Last year, acting Education Commissioner Rochelle Hendricks had declined to come to the convention, as the state’s top schools chiefs typically have done.

Cerf took comments after his speech, and teachers expressed skepticism that his plans would work.

Jeannie Long, a technology teacher at Clearview Regional High School in Mullica Hill, said that when she started, she received rave reviews, even as she knew she was not teaching very well.

 


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