Chris Christie: let’s “find unity” on education reform (audio)

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave the closing address at the Iowa Education Summit in Des Moines this afternoon.

AUDIO: Christie’s speech (30 min) Said he wasn’t in Iowa to throw down a gauntlet.  (Moment later, at a news conference, Christie admitted gauntlet-throwing is his normal mode.)

Christie suggested there are warring factions in this fight over education that try to “demonize each other…so let’s set aside the hyperbole about who likes and who dislikes education…The time for change is now.”

The State of New Jersey spends nearly $24,000/pupil/year on students in Newark public schools, where he said 23 percent of high schoolers will graduate in four years — and 95 percent of those who do wind up graduating and going on to college need at least a year of remedial training to be ready for college-level classes.

“That’s an obsenity…for the children of Newark and their families who are being consigned to that failure because of that zip code,” he said.

Christie cited statistic for schools in other New Jersey metro schools,

“Forget about who you want to blame…Let’s put that aside and let’s see what we can agree on,” Christie said. “Can’t we agree that that is failure?…Yet in the yelling and screaming that’s going on about education in this country, we miss that. That is failure and that failure has real-life ramifications for those children.  They’re the ones whose future is restricted.”

“…How can we live in a country that’s permitting that to happen right under our nose while we spend a king’s ransom for that failure?” he said.

Christie next suggested parents can’t be blamed for the failure either. “That’s a response I hear all the time from opponents of real reform,” he said, asking a few moments later: “Are you really willing to live in a world that places failure as the only option at the feet of a child who can’t pick his or her parent?”

Christie advocated for performance-based pay, new teacher evaluation systems, and an end to giving teachers tenure. “It’s not as if we’re walking around a dark room on education reform and can’t find the light switch.  There are light switches everywhere,” he said, but said none of them alone were the “silver bullet solution.”

“We owe it to every child…to give them every opportunity for greatness,” he said. “Why is it that we still operate a system that does not reward excellence and does not give consequences for failure?”

No one is entitled a lifetime job, according to Christie, who said every other profession bases pay on performance, “except today with the possible exception of the congress of the United States.”

Christie compared himself and his family to Rahm Emanuel’s when it comes to enrolling their children in non-public schools.  Christie said Emanuel has “a style that is uniquely his” and which Christie said Emanuel employed in responding “directly and bluntly” to criticism on the issue.

He got a smattering applause for that reference to Rahm Emanuel; the first time his speech had been interrupted by applause. “This is not a Republican or Democratic issue, this issue of choice.  It is an economic issue,” Christie said.  “…Why should that choice just be limited to me and Rahm Emanuel and other people of means to make those choices?”

Christie suggested it was time to stop “arguing and bickering” about education reform and do something. “Our children only have one year in each grade and every year that’s wasted is a year they can never get back,” he said. “…We can decide today that the interest of these children is more important than how we define political winning and losing.”

A few people in the crowd started to applaud, but he kept going, saying he wasn’t in Iowa to “throw down the gauntlet of the next battle…We must find common ground on this issue and…children’s lives are wasting as we dawdle.”

Christie ended by warning that if the status quo of the nation’s education system is maintained, “the great morality that America projects across the world will be lost at the same time, and then the world will be a lesser place for our unwillingness and inability to act.”  He closed by saying he looks forward “to watching the magic that happens in Iowa” on education reform.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.