New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday called for public school teachers to be evaluated based equally on their classroom performance and student achievement and accused the state's largest teachers union of being a group of "bullies and thugs."
Christie laid out his proposal in a speech in New York sponsored by the Brookings Institute, a Washington think tank. A teachers union spokesman called the governor's plan an "educational disaster."
Since taking office last year, the Republican Christie has emerged as a popular figure among conservatives nationally for his willingness to confront public employee unions, including teachers, over their salaries and pensions. Several other governors have since followed suit, saying such benefits for public employees are unsustainable over time.
Christie kept up the anti-union drumbeat Thursday, referring to the New Jersey Education Association as a bunch of "bullies and thugs" who pressured the Democrat-controlled Legislature to resist reform. "I don't know how they sleep at night," he said of the union.
Christie spoke broadly about the need to reform public education, saying seniority-based tenure should be abolished and that good teachers should be paid more than bad teachers.
He laid out new details of his plan for teacher evaluations, basing them equally on student achievement and teacher performance in the classroom. Every school district should design and implement its evaluation plan based on that framework, Christie said, with teachers and principals taking charge of drafting the plan and measuring one another's performance.
Christie said he had bypassed the union to meet privately with groups of teachers to seek input for his plan.
"I want to hear directly from teachers and want them to hear directly from me. There's not one teacher who doesn't understand we need to reform this system," Christie said.
He acknowledged the limitations of test scores on evaluations and said teachers had to be measured somewhat differently based on their subject areas.
"How do you test a music teacher? How do you test the art teacher? And don't you test the special ed teacher a little differently?" he said.
A teacher rated effective or highly effective for three consecutive years would receive tenure, Christie said. Teachers would lose tenure after two consecutive years of ineffective ratings. Christie's proposal also makes it quicker to get rid of underperforming teachers _ cases would be resolved in 30 days.
NJEA spokesman Steve Baker called Christie's proposal "an educational disaster" for students.
"It would require a massive expansion of standardized testing in every grade level and every subject," Baker said.
Christie bolstered his case using oft-recited numbers, saying 104,000 children in New Jersey are trapped in 200 chronically failing schools. He says education spending has increased 343 percent since 1985 with aid to the state's 31 neediest districts nearly doubling as a percentage of the state budget. Yet, the gap in eighth-grade math between at-risk and not at-risk students hasn't changed significantly in 19 years.
Christie's appearance in New York was the latest in a string of national appearances, including interviews with network news anchors and a speech at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in February.
He has been pressing for education reform throughout his tenure but has seen pushback from the union and many lawmakers. Many of the reforms he's proposing he would require legislative approval.
Christie has managed to rein in school superintendent salaries by changing the pay scale so only the heads of the biggest districts are paid more than the governor, who makes $175,000 a year. But, a bill establishing a pilot school voucher program paid for by businesses is stalled for now in the Assembly and Senate.
The administration is embroiled in a lawsuit over education cuts that Christie made in last year's budget. The Newark-based Education Law Center sued after Christie slashed state aid to education by about $1 billion last year. The current budget proposal restores $250 million in public education aid. The case is pending before the state Supreme Court.
Delli Santi reported from Trenton, NJ.