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N.J. Gov. Wants Math, Science Teachers Paid More Than P.E. Teachers

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hasn't exactly been known as a friend of teachers' unions during his time as governor.

Christie drew the rancor of his state's NEA affiliate once again this week, when he said that math and science teachers deserve to be paid more than gym teachers, in an online interview with Facebook.

Well and Good

"You have to pay [math and science teachers] more than we pay the gym teacher," he said. "I'm sorry, in today's society, they're more valuable than the gym teacher. They just are."

Christie was responding to a Facebook software-engineer's question about what the GOP's policy should be toward STEM education. The engineer said that "one of the problems that we face here at Facebook is recruiting enough talent on our engineering team."

In response, Christie said that the No. 1 priority needed to be fixing urban schools, which he said are currently doing "awful." (That's in contrast to suburban and rural schools, which are doing "OK" by the governor's books.)

Then, Christie set his sights on teachers. Gym teachers, in particular.

"We have to adapt our education system to the kids, not the education system for the comfort of the adults, and that's what we're doing right now. Teachers are comfortable working 8:30 to 3, from September to June, and, you know, this is the way it's always been. But that's when we were on the agrarian calendar, and people got out in June because they had to work out in the farm. No one's doing that anymore, at least very few people are. ... So, we have to have a longer school year; we have to have a longer school day."

In direct response to the STEM question, Christie followed up by saying: "We have to incentivize people to become science and math teachers. We gotta pay them more."

And then, he dropped the "in today's society, they're more valuable than the gym teacher" quote.

Union Responds

Not surprisingly, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association didn't see eye-to-eye with that last comment.

"What's he got against gym teachers?" NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer asked in an email to The Star-Ledger. "The role a teacher plays at all levels is equally important, equally challenging, and contributes equally to the outcome."

"Sound body, sound mind," he said.

To Christie's credit, he didn't shy away from the comments later in the week, telling a reporter that the NJEA should "cut the crap" when asked about Wollmer's question on Wednesday.

"You know I don't hate gym teachers," Christie said, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

This post isn't meant to jump on a sound bite of Christie's and attack blindly. In fact, his underlying point about teacher tenure needing reform (rewarding teachers based on their "value," instead of how many years they've served) has many supporters.

But the question then becomes: How do you identify an individual teacher's "value?" How can you put a dollar value on a certain subject? (For instance, what makes a math teacher worth $75,000/year and a phys. ed. teacher only worth $50,000?)

The subjectivity in that decisionmaking, on the surface, would appear to open a Pandora's box of potential legal issues and gray areas for school administrators.

And besides, who's to say phys. ed. teachers, who may be the main figure pushing many kids to be physically active, aren't as valuable as teachers of other subjects? What data can back that up?

Here's the full interview between Gov. Christie and Facebook Chief Operating Office Sheryl Sandberg. Between the 16-20 minute mark, Gov. Christie talks about his education agenda; jump to roughly the 30-minute mark to hear his comment about gym teachers:

Watch live streaming video from facebookguests at livestream.com

Photo: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie answers a question at Liberty State Park, in Jersey City, N.J., on Nov. 2. Christie caused a stir with his state's teachers' union after he said math and science teachers were more valuable than gym teachers. (Mel Evans/AP)

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