New Jersey Governor Chris Christie condemned his state’s spending on education and teachers’ unions Friday at the Harvard Graduate School of Education as part of the last Askwith Forum of the year.
Christie—who has been criticized for his plans to significantly alter tenure policies and introduce merit pay—said he is not worried that his controversial education initiatives could impede his chances of reelection.
“I could care less,” Christie said to applause. “I won’t be able to sleep at night if I decide to incrementalize and compromise the principles we talked about today just to get myself an extra four years in office. It ain’t worth it.”
His principles, Christie said, include defeating the interests of teachers’ unions, which he likened to “political thuggery.”
“[Teachers’ unions are] an operation that rules through fear and intimidation,” Christie said. “They are there to protect the lowest performers and to protect a system of post-employment compensation.”
Joseph Klein, a graduate student at the Ed School who spent 38 years running his own steel company and interacted with industry unions, said that he agreed with Christie’s outlook on teachers’ unions.
“There are few union leaders who truly want reform and truly are interested in children and children learning rather than keeping their own power,” Klein said.
Among Christie’s plans for reform is an overhaul of the tenure system, requiring teachers to be evaluated annually as either effective or highly effective in order to maintain their tenure. Currently, Christie said teachers may be awarded tenure after three years of teaching without further evaluations. Though he was accused of attacking teachers in his campaigns, Christie said the opposite is true.
“I want to empower teachers,” he said. “I want teachers who understand that they are going to be rewarded for excellence, and that there are consequences for failure.”
Union leaders argue that Christie’s plan to remove tenure and instead implement monetary incentives for better teaching would discourage teachers to collaborate with one another.
“I’m sure at Facebook, given the competition for pay, they no longer collaborate,” he said sarcastically. “It’s ridiculous. Of course they collaborate.... What an awfully cynical, ugly characterization of teachers.”
Christie also argued that the New Jersey state government overspends on education, partially as a result of a state supreme court ruling there.
“In our state, the supreme court makes it up as they go along,” Christie said. “They are the architects of a failed legal theory that money equals quality.”
New Jersey is consistently among the states with the highest income, property, and sales tax rates, Christie said.
But, he said, high spending on education in New Jersey is not producing noticeable benefits.