Trenton IdolApril 28, 2009
Using Special Education Reforms as a ModelApril 29, 2009
This morning the State Supreme Court hears arguments from the D.O.E. and the Education Law Center on whether Corzine’s new School Funding Reform Act is constitutional. What does this mean? Depends upon whom you ask. Advocates for Districts-Formerly-Known-As-Abbott, 31 poor urban districts once believed to house the vast majority of our economically-disadvantaged children (it’s actually 51%), say that the Supreme Court’s decision 30 years ago is the only fair way to provide a “thorough and efficient” educational system and we should continue subsidizing those children at the rate of our wealthiest districts. The D.O.E., and others, argue that poverty is rife in many other places besides those 31 districts and that supplementary funds should be allotted on a per-pupil basis, regardless of the district of residence.
The Record has a good summary here.
The Abbott decisions are informed by the hypothesis that money can assuage the damage inflicted by poverty. If only it were that easy! A quick glance at the academic performance of the Abbott districts belies that claim. According to No Child Left Behind data, the vast majority of Abbott districts are labeled Schools in Need of Improvement, and have been on that list for years. Now, there are a couple of bright spots: Salem City and Hoboken have only been on the SINI list for 2 years, Keansburg and Pemberton for 3 years. And there are plenty of other wealthier districts that land on that list also. The point is that pouring in lots of money – the average Abbott district is funded at about $17,000 to $18,000 per pupil – doesn’t work.
The definition of insanity, usually attributed to Einstein, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Can we widen the discussion to include factors that may not be ameliorated by money? Do our impoverished kids need longer school days or longer school years or better social services? Can our public schools take some lessons from charter models that seem to have promise?
The equation of a thorough and efficient education with a price tag of close to $20,000 per year per kid (more in some districts in N.J.) is unsustainable. We’ve got a bad case of educational myopia and we need a new prescription. Can the Court see and think outside the box of obsolete assumptions and data?