Quote of the DayJuly 15, 2009
QOTD: Ingle on NJEA and “The Cartel”July 16, 2009
In Steve Adubato’s piece “No Magic Bullet for Urban Schools,” he says that public education will be a major issue in the race between Christie and Corzine. Much of the debate hovers above the failure of our poor urban areas to sustain quality schools and how great a role should be played by alternatives – charter schools and voucher systems. Corzine seems to verbally support charters, though the Department of Education has a spotty record of charter support. The N.J. Charter School Program Act was approved in 1996 by Christie Whitman with a mandate to establish 155 charter schools (here’s a little history), but right now there are only 62. One application out of 22 was approved in 2008 (under Corzine appointee Lucille Davy), though 6 more are slated to begin operations in September. There are currently 11,000 kids on waiting lists.
So Christie sees a handy dagger in his arsenal: he brandished it yesterday during some campaign stops in urban areas, reports the New Jersey Newsroom:
There are thousands of children in the city of Newark alone who are on waiting lists to get into Newark’s charter schools. The demand for charter schools substantially outstrips supply and we cannot continue to ration educational opportunity where it is needed the most. We will make it easier to create and maintain charter schools.
Christie went as far as to say that he would appoint an educational commissioner “whose priority would be to approve high-quality charter schools” because “the Department of Education does not see it as part of its mission to encourage and facilitate charter school expansion.” Then he went further:
Christie said he would also allow children attending chronically failing schools to seek admission to any public school with available space willing to accept them. The entire per-pupil state and federal aid would follow the child to the new school “This ‘dollars-follow-the-child’ model would encourage low-cost, successful school districts to admit children from failing, high-cost districts,” he said.
It’s a really interesting idea. (Full disclosure: we’ve suggested this idea here.) It’s also a political can of worms, pushing the buttons of every home rule diehard and NIMBY in New Jersey. Let’s take our favorite example in Burlington County: Moorestown and Willingboro. (There’s a similar duality in every county in the state.) Willingboro was just in the news because its dysfunction is reaching Palinesque levels. The Burlington County Times reported yesterday that the Willingboro Public Schools spectacularly failed the New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum, fondly knows as NJQSAC, the epic assessment instrument used by the state to measure a district’s instruction, fiscal solvency, operations, personnel, and board governance. You have to get an 80% in each of the five areas to pass. Willingboro scored 39 in instruction, 66 in fiscal, 80 in operations, 78 in personnel and 44 in governance. How bad is it? So bad that the D.O.E. called in one of their top dogs, Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer, to flog the under-achieving School Board. She told them it would take “a lot of bravery” to fix the myriad problems.
It takes more bravery for parents to send their kids there, and for kids to try to learn. Here’s the DOE data if you want to look in depth, but just for a sense of the odds against these kids, only 48% graduate using the HSPA, 5 kids got a score of 3 or better on the few AP courses offered there, and 58% of the kids failed the high school proficiency test in math.
So, if we take Christie at his word, kids at Willingboro, a chronically failing school by any standard (the high school is in its 6th year as a “School in Need of Improvement” according to NCLB data) should have the option to go to, say, Moorestown High, where 98.3% graduated via the HSPA, 294 got scores of 3 or better on the plethora of AP options, and 10% failed the math high school assessment.
Count him in for lots of votes in Willingboro and, well, maybe not so many in Moorestown. But is Christie for real or merely spouting the “cheap gimmicks and even cheaper rhetoric” that Adubato warns against? And other factors abound: the NJEA’s focus on capping charter school growth, local school boards’ resistance because they have to pay per pupil tuition (though 90%, not the full check), some charter school disasters due to poor planning that left kids worse off than before.
We need a D.O.E. that actively promotes and oversees quality charter schools. We need a system that rescues kids like those stuck in Willingboro, while a few miles away other schoolchildren reap the rewards of quality public education. Both Corzine and Christie would probably agree. But which one will follow through?