A few days after the United States Senate confirmed the appointment of an avowed enemy of public education–Betsy DeVos–to be the nation’s education secretary, advocates of public education held a conference in New Brunswick to search for some reason for hope. The meeting’s organizers, including members and staff of such pro-public education groups as the Education Law Center and Save Our Schools, depicted the election later this year of a new governor to replace Chris Christie as an opportunity–as, indeed, it is.
Christie, after all, shares DeVos’s views of a privately operated but publicly funded system of education and was one of a handful of governors to endorse her appointment by President Donald Trump. He called her choice “inspired.”
What was not inspirational, however, was the response of the New Jersey advocates–good, right-thinking people all, with whom I have little argument. Except one–why can’t they be as aggressive in promoting a system of free, inclusive, integrated, fully-funded independent public schools as Trump is in destroying it?
The title of the conference was “New Jersey Education Policy Agenda for the Next Gubernatorial Administration.” I could not stay for afternoon sessions on testing and training, but I did listen to discussions of school funding, charters, governance, and accountability. I was disheartened by what I heard.
Part of the problem is that, among this group of advocates–and others, including the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), the state’s largest teachers’ union–Phil Murphy is the heir apparent for what passes for progressivism in New Jersey politics. Yet Murphy–like Jon Corzine, a Goldman-Sachs alumnus–has said virtually nothing about public education and his message is as inspiring and thought-provoking as a lecture on lawn mowing.