Sunday, May 15, 2016

An Important Election for New Jersey
By:  Anonymous NJ BAT

On June 7, 2016, polls will be open from 6:00am - 8:00pm for Primary elections in New Jersey. There is a great deal at stake during these upcoming elections. The candidates that make it onto the ballot for November can shape the future of education in our state and country. It is important that voters are informed when they go to the polls on June 7th, and even more important that you take the time to VOTE. 

Pennsauken is located in District 1 within New Jersey. In an effort to become informed about those that will be on the ballot on June 7th, I reached out to the Democratic Congressional candidates to get more information. My experience was eye opening. 

I used one of my favorite social media outlets (Facebook) to reach out to both candidates: incumbent Donald Norcross and his opponent Alex Law. I asked each if they would like to tell me and the members of PEA a bit about themselves. Was there anything that they would like us to know when going to the polls in June? Both replied to the private messages I sent, rather quickly. My response from Mr. Norcross was as follows: “Hello. Kindly check out this link. It’s from the National Education Association’s Legislative Report Card for the 114th Congress, in which they provided me a score of ‘A.’” 

I must admit, that this was not the kind of response I was looking for. I can google and search for information on NEA’s website myself. As a constituent, I want more. 

Alex Law replied with an offer to meet in person, or talk on the phone. As I am quite busy during the week, he agreed to meet me at his office on a Sunday morning so that we could talk. I was floored. When meeting with Alex Law I was able to ask him whatever I wanted and he responded candidly. He spoke to issues that were very personal for me as an educator and spoke of his father who is a teacher as well. He also provided me with his official stance on Education Reform (This can be found on PEA’s website for reference). Our conversation became most interesting when speaking of charter schools. Alex spoke passionately about keeping funding in public schools. He is in favor of stopping the funneling of public money to charter schools, who he said, “Send all of the low achieving students back to public schools to keep their graduation rates and scores high” As we are facing the possibility of a charter school opening in Pennsauken, this is an important issue that has been on my mind. 

On the issue of merit pay, Alex stated that it could never work, because no two classrooms are the same and then went on to share a quick personal example, of his favorite teacher from high school and how this teacher taught a range of classes, sometimes higher level and sometimes struggling students. It would be unfair to assess him and pay him differently because he chose or was assigned to work with struggling students. In his position statement, Alex writes: 

“It’s been particularly frustrating to see conservatives increasingly treating teachers like a salesmen in a business, attempting to tie their pay to the performance of their students - a totally unfair and unrealistic strategy - while ignoring the failure of the American education system at large and refusing to look at systematic changes to the way we educate.” (Law, 2016) 

Our conversation went on for a little over a half hour, and with each topic, I continued to be impressed. When I returned home, I sat to read his entire position statement on Education Reform. As we are currently in the middle of PARCC testing, his position on high-stakes testing interested me greatly . Alex recognizes that poorly designed tests that take away from large chunks of authentic teaching and learning are a huge issue. He spoke of other countries who are continuing to advance in the area of education, while we fall further behind. The major difference between us and them - testing. 

While talking about his position statements, Alex shared with me that he didn’t write these on his own. He shared that although he had ideas about specific aspects of education, he needed to know more and called together a group of teachers to discuss the issues before solidifying his position. Wow - a candidate that is willing to sit and LISTEN to teachers. 

My experience with responses from these two candidates spoke volumes to me, as a voter and as an educator. Someone who points me to a website for an organization (of which I am already a member) to read a web article, shows that they don’t want to take the time to put thought into our interaction. On the other hand, someone who was willing to accommodate my busy schedule to meet on a Sunday morning and talk candidly, cares about what myself and my colleagues have to say, shows me that they value my time and my vote.

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