Chris Christie pushes teacher tenure reform to the top

11/23/2013 5:00 PM

11/23/2013 6:10 PM

Take note.

There is a puzzling nugget hidden in all the bragging by Republican New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, re-elected by a landslide in a “blue” state.

It’s a doozy.

I am not referring to his boasting about cutting business taxes by $2.3 billion. Nor am I referring to his claim that under his administration, New Jersey created 143,000 new jobs. I’m also not referring to Christie’s bragging that he has reformed pensions and benefits. And that he, a Republican, did all this with a Democratic legislature.

No, what jumps out at me — something I have not heard other governors boasting about in a big way — (particularly governors who are probably running for president) — is Christie’s out-of-the-blue, puff-out-his-chest, victorious cry that — catch this — he has reformed teacher tenure.

What? Teacher tenure?

“Teacher tenure is a policy that restricts the ability to fire teachers, requiring a ‘just cause’ rationale for a firing.” So says Wikipedia.

That lifetime job security is virtually non-existent in the private sector.

But what’s teacher tenure doing in the main headlines?

Allow me to quote from Fox News Sunday, where Christie repeated the boast.

“What I’ve been saying all along,” said Christie, “is that you can govern with the principles I have — reforming tenure, cutting budgets.”

In that order.

Christie apparently puts his success in taming teacher tenure over his budget cutting.

This is not a stupid man. Christie is a very astute politician. So, if he, a likely presidential aspirant, is citing teacher tenure as among his highest achievements, you can bet that this has been polled and found to be extremely popular and a high priority among a significant number of Republicans, and possibly independents.

In New Jersey now, under its new reform, teachers will have to wait four years, instead of three to gain tenure, and they will have to earn it by performing well. They can face firing if they get poor evaluations.

Said one New Jersey Democratic legislator: “We can’t have the bad teachers in the schools anymore. One bad teacher is one bad teacher too many.”

That differs from Missouri and Kansas, where firing a tenured teacher with “due process” is a virtual impossibility.

In Missouri, it takes five years to earn tenure. In Kansas, three years. (In Kansas, it is known as a “continuing contract,” but it is the same as tenure.)

Missouri’s Republican legislature has debated several tenure-reform bills in recent years, but they have gone nowhere. Even if they did, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon would certainly squash them. Among his strongest supporters is the teachers’ union, which is vehemently opposed to tenure reform.

However, what about Kansas?

There, both conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and a conservative Republican Legislature could ram through tenure reform. The teachers’ union supporters were obliterated in the last election, so they could not block the effort. This is an issue crying out for action in Kansas.

That some sort of tenure reform should be an agenda everywhere — even President Barack Obama has called for rewarding highly performing teachers and eliminating bad teachers from the classrooms — is a given.

Christie clearly is elevating the issue to become a key part of a presidential platform. And he can claim, rightfully, he accomplished it with bipartisan help.

If Christie makes it to the Republican debates, you can be sure the issue will be front and center.

And that’s where it belongs.

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