Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf offers olive branch at NJEA meeting

Kudos to Chris Cerf for going in front of a hostile audience and speaking some common sense – and rebutting Ravitch's usual nonsense:

Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf made a noble attempt on Friday to assure teachers that Gov. Chris Christie really does love them.

It was a tough mission, because the governor's tirades on this topic are infamous. Union leaders are "thugs." Teachers use students as "drug mules." At his town hall meetings, beating up teachers is a go-to move. And everyone remembers that one year ago, the Christie administration broke tradition by boycotting the annual meeting of the New Jersey Education Association in Atlantic City. The message was received.

But here was Cerf, laboring valiantly under the weight of that history, trying to build a relationship by attending this year's teachers' convention.

We should all wish him luck. Because even if Christie gets everything he wants from the Legislature, pretty much everyone agrees the reforms won't work if teachers think they are bunk.

So Cerf knows he has to change some hearts and minds.

"I just want to assure you, this issue of improving public education, especially for our neediest students, is not a political platform for him (Christie)," Cerf said. "It is the purpose of his being in office. He has the highest regard for teachers and teaching."

The last line was too much for the few hundred teachers who packed a room at the Atlantic City Convention Center to hear him.

They hissed. They booed. Some shouted words that can't be reprinted here.

Cerf knew the reaction was too much to ignore, so he went once more into the breech.

…Will he change some minds? Maybe, but it's a steep climb. On Thursday, teachers heard a red-meat polemic from Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University, who told them to stand tough against Cerf's reforms on tenure, merit pay and charter schools.

Ravitch got a standing ovation. And afterward, Barbara Keshishian, the union president, gushed to the crowd: "Exactly what we say! She has certainly given that verification by her remarks today."

Cerf got no such embrace. But the door to finding common ground was opened, if just a crack. And that counts as a big success.


Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf offers olive branch at NJEA meeting

Published: Sunday, November 13, 2011, 8:25 AM

By Tom Moran/ The Star-Ledger

 Subscribe in a reader