Fixing Schools - It's Not About Consensus

Chris Cerf, Commissioner of New Jersey Public Schools, defends recent sweeping education reforms in New York City and New Jersey.
  • Transcript


This isn’t about consensus and a collaboration. That is not the highest value in this world. Putting too high a premium on consensus and collaboration can lead to and historically has lead to least common denominator solutions that are bad for children.

Making everybody happy when you’re trying to change a system from a failing system to a successful system is not the highest value.  The highest value is maximizing the number of children who get a quality public school education.  I can tell you to a matter of absolute certainty that whether it’s in this domain or in any other, change is complex.  It has winners, it has losers, it has advocates and for the most part, people who are advocating for the preservation of the status quo, tend to have a far greater influence on the public debate and on the media.  They tend to say, oh those other guys who are advocating for change, they don’t know what they’re doing.  It’s inconsistent with the way we’ve already done things, they’re experimenting. That is essentially the way the debate unfolded in New York City.  

So I’m very, very proud of the work in New York City.  I think it demonstrated, I’m not speaking of me, but of my colleagues, a very sort of courageous effort to sort of do the right thing; damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and yeah, generate a little noise.  And my attitude in New Jersey is not unlike that.  Sure, I’d love for everybody to sing Kumbaya around a common set of goals and methods.  I think that is very unlikely.

I don’t take a position against unions.  I take a position for policies. There really is a very important continuing role for teacher’s unions.  They have about $100 million a year drawing from dues to use for advocacy efforts.  And they are using those advocacy efforts to deport policies which I think are just affirmatively bad for kids. I’m going to point that out.  And if that means that there are disagreements and there are public disagreements, I guess that’s just the cost of doing business because it is my fiduciary duty to try to support and advance policies.  And this is the way the Governor feels as well, that our first and foremost right for children and everything else, I’ll just have to take the hit.