If and when Governor Chris Christie announces his 2016 presidential bid, one thing is certain: a primary focus will be on education. And when Christie talks about education, he means undermining teachers unions, ending tenure for teachers, closing and consolidating schools, replacing traditional public schools with for-profit charter schools, privatization and more. That’s what he’s done in Newark, and that’s what he bragging about when he travels around the country—including, as reported below, in two recent speeches, one to an elite gathering of wealthy Wall Street types and one to the Aspen Institute.
In New Jersey, the battleground between Christie, on one hand, and teachers and parents, on the other, has centered on Newark, the state’s largest city, where schools have operated under state control since 1995. As described in a detailed piece in The Nation by Owen Davis, in countless pieces in Bob Braun’s Ledger, and as a central focus of the Jersey Jazzman blog, since taking office in 2009 Christie has extended and expanded state control of Newark’s school, ordering a dramatic reorganization of the school system under the direction of Cami Anderson, the Christie-appointed superintendent of schools in Newark. Her plan, One Newark, called for firing hundreds of tenured teachers, closing numerous public schools and replacing them with charter schools. Opposition erupted immediately, sparking walk-outs, demonstrations, marches and angry school board meetings, and it led to Anderson’s firing five principals who spoke out against her policies. The anger was pivotal in the election of Ras Baraka in May as Newark’s new reform mayor. Baraka, a public high school principal and strong opponent of Christie’s education plans, ran against Shavar Jeffries, a strong charter school proponent, as Christie Watch detailed on May 14:
While Baraka was backed strongly by New Jersey’s Working Families Alliance, the teachers union, the Communications Workers of America and the rest of organized labor, lots of money from Wall Street, hedge funds and the wealthy charter school movement poured into Newark on behalf of Shavar Jeffries, Baraka’s opponent in the race.
Despite the opposition at home, Christie is promoting his education ideas to potential Republican backers and financiers of his 2016 campaign. On July 16, surrounded by the big guns of the hedge fund industry, Christie was in his element when he keynoted the CNBC/Institutional Investor “Delivering Alpha” conference. In interview format with CNBC’s John Harwood, Christie made clear that a key focus of a possible presidential campaign would be a reformed education system that “promotes competition”:
We have an educational system in this country now that puts the comfort of the adults (the teachers) before the children. The fact is, there are ineffective teachers all across the country, protected by the tenure system, [which is] the essence of anti-competitiveness.… You should have merit pay across the country and they should get paid more if they are good. And we shouldn’t have a system that allows bad teachers to be guaranteed a job for life.