ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – The new school year is barely two months old, but many New Jersey districts are beginning a four-day weekend today in honor of the New Jersey Education Association’s annual convention.

NJEA conventionTens of thousands of teachers will spend the next two days in an Atlantic City convention hall – instead of their classrooms – where they’ll participate in professional development seminars, workshops and various programs, reports PressOfAtlanticCity.com.

This is the teacher union’s 159th convention, which is being billed as “bigger and better than ever.”

It sounds like a good time for teachers, but the question must be asked: Are all of these “professional development” seminars really worth disrupting student learning over?

The statistics suggest they’re not.

Despite all of wisdom-sharing that assuredly takes place at the union meeting, it doesn’t appear to be yielding much fruit in New Jersey’s classrooms. Forty-nine percent of all New Jersey fourth-graders aren’t proficient (or competent) in math, and 56 percent of them aren’t proficient in reading, according to 2011 numbers from the U.S. Department of Education.

The state’s eighth-graders are in equally rough academic shape, with more than half of them lacking proficiency skills in both math and reading.

That’s contributing to the state’s huge achievement gap between its minority and white students, reports JerseyCan.org, a nonprofit advocacy group,

This statistical information suggests New Jersey students need every bit of instruction than can get. Closing school down for a couple of days so the state’s largest teachers union can hold its annual “meet-and-greet” seems outdated and counterproductive.

Of course, come to think of it, that’s a perfect description of teacher unionism in general. Maybe the NJEA’s bloated and unnecessary convention is the embodiment of what’s wrong with New Jersey’s public education system.

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