Washington (CNN) – The nation's education system is in crisis, and bipartisan support is essential for reform, a panel of leading experts said Wednesday. While disagreeing on key points, they said the time for action on education is now.
"A Pathway to Excellence: The Future of Education in America" was moderated by Jessica Yellin, CNN's national political correspondent.
At the forum, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-California, clashed over how much blame teachers unions should bear for the problems in the nations' public schools and whether they are willing to change.
"The single most powerful political force is the teachers union fighting this," Christie said. The governor, who has butted heads with the unions since taking office, has made education a key priority and has traveled his state to town hall meetings discussing his ideas.
He told the audience on Wednesday that union members are not the only people to blame "but they are the people to blame for the lack of change because they are the ones who stand in the way of any change."
Generally, teachers unions are major supporters of Democrats.
Miller, an influential congressional voice on education for many years, said he has had his disagreements with the unions but disagreed with Christie's portrayal.
"That is too simplistic. I see change taking place all across the country in public systems, public systems that have adopted public charter schools, that let people go to private charter schools, that have adopted open choice," he said. "There is no question that teachers unions are a powerful part of this argument. They should be. They are central to its success. They can be central to its failure."
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who once was Denver's schools superintendent, said the various constituencies must find consensus on the problems before they can tackle reform. "Change is very hard to accomplish unless people have a shared understanding of the facts."
"If you want to make this teachers vs. everybody else, you are missing the game because school boards and superintendents and PTAs and local school boards liked their school system because it was neat and it was comfortable. It just wasn't serving the children, and so we are into the next generation," Miller said.
Christie, who has been meeting with several of the leading GOP presidential hopefuls, deferred when asked whether any of the contenders shard his views on education.
"You ain't getting me anywhere near that," which was met with laughter by the audience.
Despite widespread speculation about the possibility, Christie again said flat-out he will not be seeking the Republican presidential nomination. "My God, I am not running for president. Everyone remain calm. All is well."
All of the participants, including Harlem Children's Zone president Geoffrey Canada, agreed fostering good teachers is the key to making American education excel.
While many conservatives have said they don't see a role for Washington in terms of education, Christie and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels have said they do. They both have offered some praise for President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan for their reform efforts.
Christie, who has pushed for creation of more charter schools and reduction in aid to poorly performing school districts, told the forum Republicans must concentrate on schools in urban areas, such as Newark, because they are a big source of the problem.
"Folks in Newark generally aren't going to vote for me anyway. But the point is if Republicans are willing to go to urban areas where they don't get votes and say these kids are every bit as important as the suburban kids ... and the future of our state's economy and our country's economy are dependent upon those kids becoming productive members of our economy not in prison, not on assistance, not standing on a street corner selling drugs but becoming productive members of our society."
Washington will see a major debate over education policy as it embarks on reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind later this year.
"This is a unique moment. You have the president of the United States, Secretary of Education, a conservative governor of New Jersey, a Democratic member of the House, a Democratic member of the Senate all saying essentially the same thing," Christie said. "If we can't take advantage of this moment, then we deserve what we get."
Christie is an interesting fellow. He slams unions, talks badly of cities in this states, acts like a bull in the china closet (is as big as one) and then talks about working together. Governor, this is not a way to get anyone on board. You will be wearing your welcome soon with that attitude. Typical Republican though, always talking over everybody else.
More lies from Christie. The biggest "force" impeding progress on education is not teachers' unions, it's over-worked stressed-out parents who have been victimized by the filthy cult capitalists who've been preying on their time and energy since Reagan. The GOBPbaggers claim to support family values, yet virtually every time they vote it is in favor of their corporate overlords, not average American families. It's pretty obvious that parents struggling to pay bills have less time spend with their kids.
What a novel thing to do. Now perhaps Republicans will stop demonizing and vilifying teachers and blaming them for all the ills in the country.
I like this bipartisanship.
He must be RINO. Every other Republican wants to slash education funding except for private school vouchers for private school. But to make sure only the affluent can use them, the voucher will not cover the cost 100%.
Christie has always favored beating up on unions no matter who the represent. He has not figured out that he is an adminstrator rather than a prosecutor. What has he done to talk to the unions? Nothing from what I see and I live in the state. There are teachers that the union shouldn't help (like with any union needing to let the bad apples go), but that doesn't make the whole union bad.
Chris! the Governor ! You can’t burn the candle at both ends. Are you on the side of the people of NJ or on the Republican establishment?
Then stop calling the teachers in your state and others "Thugs" and 'Greedy".' All I see are greedy republican hypocrites wanting more for the rich and corporations at the expense of our children! Christie should stop eating for awhile and it would save a lot of money for him and probably NJ.
Wait, I've got a great idea! Privatize education. It'll be so much more efficient when it's required to produce obscene profits as well as provide a service. Look at how well contracting and privatization worked out in Iraq. And public housing. And HMOs. And the US Postal Service (1971, look it up). And military housing (it's in full swing, really). And utilities. And telecommunications. I can't wait to see how it transforms the space program and the social safety net!!! Gosh, the private sector is so superior and offers such value to the consumer. Capitalism rules!
Christie is just another union busting tool of the republiklan party.
First, Christie should really get some nutritional information. Second, don't blame the teachers if the U.S. is producing huge batches of dum kids. Too many parents expect the teachers to do everything for educating them. They don't want to spend anytime at home teaching them. Then, they don't want to pay taxes to support an education system. If you don't like the teachers or if you simply don't want to pay them decent wages for teaching your children, home school them. See how long before the majority of parents are willing to pay taxes and decent salaries to teachers then.
Blaming the teachers union is a show of bi-partisanship? Teaching is one of the most underpaid jobs out there, yet its one of the most important.
I an against the tenure type employment that teacher unions have supported for decades.I am however in favour of a system that makes it compulsory for teachers to have what could be called "CONTINUING PROFESSIONAL EDUCATION". To ensure they keep up to date with best practices, and Knowledge in thie field be it Sciences Maths Language or whatever. They should be evaluated every year and fail twice on the eval and the third year as well you are out.
Understanding the psychological needs of students in thier teaching locale, which vary considerably, needs LOCAL professional input for most teachers. Getting classes attention is very often the most difficult part for a teacher.
Christie has a BA in Political Science and a Law Degree I didn't see anything to make him an education expert. He got his experience by being a student till he became a lawyer at 25. After 7 years as a lawyer he stepped into politics in 1994 by beating an incumbent. The defamation suite against him by his opponent was settled out of court. It would appear that he has a BS degree as a politician and as a Republican he is obliged to attack unions. You have to admit he knows who butters his bread, and what more do you need to know about education than it's time to attack unions.
Another fat boy thinking that he can be president. Even his friend the orange smoking drinking weeper of the house says he has a chance.
Keep going after unions. It's amazing how these rethugs don't learn from very recent past history . . . . . Wisconsin anyone?
Once again, are we asking schools (teachers, principals, etc.) to overcome the ills in our society? Or are we asking them to teach? Anyone in education knows that students need to feel safe (beginning at home), need to feel nourished (begins at home), and need to learn to take responsibility for their choices (begins at home). Does anyone know how many kids come to kindergarten without knowing their numbers or basic letters? Shall we heap blame upon the teachers for that also? We seem to value education in this country– but only the abstract: as long as someone else is responsible for it. Maybe when we all accept our responsibility– teachers, principals, parents, politicians, community members, and communities– and we value education in more than just the abstract, maybe then we will see improvement.
These idiots think that reform is giving welfare vouchers to the rich so they can send their kids to religous schools. Just more of the radical extremist moves being done all over the country.
He talks a big game, but when it comes to it, its HIS WAY OR NO WAY. He is a creep and a bully. At a speech he did a couple months ago, he made fun of the old governer by talking like him and imitating his voice. This is the type of immaturity he brings to the table.
'bipartisanship' to this idiot Christie means rolling over and letting the conservatives do whatever they want to education.
this is a blatant long term political move- it's a well known fact that the less education one has, the more conservative they tend to be.
Chris Christie says a lot of things but as of today he has done nothing for New Jersey. Our taxes have gone up not down, jobs have been lost not gained, he has appointed more double dippers and his own cronies, he has taken away they rights of our cities, and eliminated the rights of our city school boards which are elected, to negotiate so he may appoint his favorites. Christie makes good You-tube video for his national image, but as for New Jersey Christie is more of the same and part of the problem not the solution.