Bret Schundler says he is a great believer in educational accountability, willing to take on the statewide teachers’ union to establish a system that links teacher job security and pay to student learning.
But there are limits to the education commissioner’s commitment to accountability.
And those limits are based, not on union pushback, but on his own ideology. A former Democrat but now a self-described "Republican with libertarian instincts," he doesn’t want to see too much regulation of private schools that receive public money.
"We regulate everybody but we’re not going to regulate everybody the same,’’ said Schundler.
The contrast between Schundler’s insistence on close accountability in public schools and his instinct to preserve the independence of private schools, even private religious schools that operate with public money, is striking.
The central focus of Schundler’s accountability effort is the creation of a statewide, centralized data base that would allow the state to determine what factors — including the performance of individual teachers — result in student learning.
Can the state develop a system that shows correlations between individual teachers and student learning? "Absolutely," he said. In two years or less.
"Once you put all the data points into a large collection, once you put all that stuff into the system, you can begin to measure the impact of an independent variable," said Schundler. "You’ll have amazing data.’’
Amazing data that can be used to pay teachers bonuses or deny them a job.
But, when asked whether that same level of scrutiny should be applied to non-public schools, Schundler — once active in a number of state and national organizations promoting school choice and vouchers — demurred.
"I would make sure the money is used for education,’’ said Schundler, who called parental choice a "human right" and was chief operating officer of a Christian college in the Empire State Building.
He added, "That’s an appropriate measure of accountability.’’ He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s warning against "excessive entanglement" of government with religious schools.
Uh, wait - the Supreme Court warning against "excessive entanglement" of government and religious schools has NOTHING to do with the government making sure that taxpayer-provided money to those schools is being used correctly.
If the government is providing taxpayer money to ANY entity, the government ought to be able to regulate how that money is spent.
We can argue whether religious schools should get ANY government money (I say they shouldn't), but if they do, then those schools - and the teachers in the them - need to be held to the same "accountability standards" as public schools and public schools teachers.
But in the Chris Christie/Bret Schundler/Mayor Moneybags/Joel Klein/Andrew Cuomo/Michelle Rhee/Arne Duncan/Barack Obama world view of things, it seems accountability is ONLY for public schools and public school teachers.
Everybody else - including religious schools and charter schools run by for-profit companies - get passes on "accountability."
Which means there is no accountability at all.
POSTSCRIPT: I should add another little piece from the Jersey paper about the New Jersey Education Commissioner Bret Schundler:
Bret Schundler is like no education commissioner the state has ever had. He’s not an educator, but a businessman and a politician. He is more of an advocate for private schools than for public schools. He is a true believer in parental choice, something he deems "a human right."
And, in the midst of an ugly fight between his governor and the state’s largest teachers union, his spokesman refers to New Jersey schools as "wretched" — just when they led the nation in a countrywide test of educational achievement.
Okay, so he repudiated the word "wretched" when legislators and educators protested — but what does he really think of the public schools he is constitutionally sworn to support?
That’s not an easy question to answer, even after sitting with Schundler for three hours and talking about the schools.
While he conceded some New Jersey public schools are doing well, he also clearly believes that things have to change and that private schools, without their union rules and bureaucracies, are the models for reform.
But then he suggested veteran teachers should pack it in and retire for the good of the schools.
If 9,000 veteran teachers retire, he said, the savings will allow the rehiring of all teachers given layoff notices this spring. Laying off new teachers, he said, would mean the loss of "some of the most energetic, attractive teachers you have.’’
So veterans are not energetic?
"Sometimes when they’re in their last years, and they’re thinking about retiring, they’re not quite as driven."
There you have it - the NJ Ed commissioner despises New Jersey public schools, is an advocate of the voucher movement and thinks school choice is a "human right," hates unions and wants to replace as many veteran teachers with newbie McTeachers as he can.
He fits right in with Barack Obama, Arne Duncan, Mayor Moneybags, Joel Klein, et al.
I guess that's why the obese NJ governor appointed him to his position. (See here for why I included the word "obese" into the previous sentence.)