Using Special Education Reforms as a ModelApril 29, 2009
Lonegan Solves N.J.’s Educational IllsApril 30, 2009
The current hearings before the State Supreme Court on Abbott vs. S.F.R.A. pit Corzine and D.O.E. against the Education Law Center, the primary advocates for the 31 poor urban Abbott districts. Here’s Corzine, courtesy of The Record, on why his new funding formula is a winner:
The S.F.R.A. provides tax relief to over-taxed N.J. households and is “the right policy from the standpoint of our children and from the standpoint of the law” because it addresses “the needs of all students, regardless of where they live.”
And on the other side of the ring, here’s Stan Karp from E.L.C. on why the Court should preserve the Abbott decisions and distribute money based on zip code:
Perceived inefficiencies are no reason to take away funding in low-income districts. “The needs in Patersonare really obvious. Waste and inefficiency is not a reason to take resources away. It’s a reason to have accountability.”
The simplistic reasoning on both sides is that the whole problem of the underachievement of poor kids boils down to the way we distribute extra money. Fix the distribution and the problem is solved, right?
Not really. Here’s a couple of other issues:
1) New Jersey can’t sustain its current level of spending on impoverished students, especially if we spread the extras to the other 49% of equally poor kids who don’t live in Abbott districts. No state in the Union could afford to spend close to $20,000 a kid on a public school education and remain solvent.
2) One of the reasons we spend so much is that we are duplicating numerous services and programs because we won’t give up local governance of schools.
3) Waste and inefficiency aside, all the extra programs and services aren’t working so well; academic achievement in Abbott districts is pretty abyssmal. (Side note: it’s not just Jersey, but everywhere. See today’s New York Times piece on the “stubbornly wide” achievement gap between white and minority students in spite of Former President Bush’s assertion that N.C.L.B. is helping.)
4) Educational progress, however, is tied directly to pedagogical skill. Our best teachers help kids learn, regardless of economic circumstances. The NJEA’s refusal to consider the benefits of linking teacher salaries to student growth – the most fundamental form of accountability – is an enormous obstacle in providing poor children with a fair shot.
The false dichotomy of Abbott vs. S.F.R.A. is a distraction from the larger problem of a fundamentally inefficient and inequitable education system in New Jersey. Our educational leaders, including Lucille Davy and the D.O.E. and the Education Law Center, need to acknowledge the flaws in the pretense that extra cash leads directly to extra academic achievement. The problem is far more complex and demands a measure of accountability, reform, and structural change that will take more analysis and creativity than a different way of writing checks.
At one point in the hearings, the following exchange took place, according to the Star-Ledger:
“The extreme poverty, racial isolation … those conditions have not changed and in some cases are worse,” David Sciarra of the Education Law Center in Newark said of the Abbott communities.
“The governmental purse is not inexhaustible,” Justice Barry Albin said to Sciarra at one point in the hearing. “What do we do?”
One place to start would be to look beyond the cash.