Sunday LeftoversJune 21, 2009
Mainstream Media Pans N.J.’s Backdoor Diploma ScamJune 22, 2009
At Democrats for Education Reform, Executive Director Joe Williams and Director of Federal Policy Charles Barone have released a series of short papers under the heading “Racing to the Top: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Issues Brief Series.” (Go here for full texts.) The four briefs are “Public Charter Schools and High-Quality Pre-K,” “Unleashing Innovation,” “Entry Points to Teaching,” and “Standards and Assessments.” Williams and Barone argue in the preface that the $100 billion in ARRA federal education funds can go two ways: one, “the old way, the path of least resistance – where government officials succumb to political pressure to reward states that have proven to be unable or unwilling to advance credible and ambitious reforms.” The second, the new way, would be “to make major investments in only those states and districts that have shown the willingness to break out of the old way of doing things, and advances game-changing models that best serve our children.”
Coincidence that Arne Duncan is giving a speech right at this moment on charter school growth (previewed here by the New York Times)?
All the papers are worth reading. For the New Jersey-centric, we’re referenced in “Standards and Assessments”:
Higher standards require more rigorous coursework, which in turn requires qualified teachers who can provide college-prep driven instruction. Any effort to implement higher standards must be coupled simultaneously with an aggressive and sustained push to put educators in place who can teach to them. Efforts in New Jersey, for example, to fully implement algebra as part of New Jersey’s high school exit exam have been hampered by uneven quality of instruction between schools, usually along the class and racial lines.
Diplomatically put. To put it less diplomatically, our kids in wealthier suburban schools in Jersey already have access to a rigorous curriculum and “educators in place who can teach to them,” while our kids in poor areas don’t. When the State D.O.E. threw in an Algebra II requirement for high school graduation, toney districts yawned: been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. Poor districts went ballistic: graduation rates will plummet, they argued, because large numbers of their kids can’t pass Algebra I, let alone Algebra II. Plus there were some questions about whether Algebra II was really the best use of everyone’s time.
Now we’re having the same argument about the Special Review Assessment, which awards high school diplomas to kids who can’t pass the standard test. And where are the bulk of those kids? In our poor school districts. Do away with the SRA, chant enraged purists. Go there, intone reps of poor districts, and more than half of our kids will never get a high school diploma.
The two-tiered educational system in Jersey paralyzes us. True educational reform isn’t possible when we hold one group of kids accountable for one set of criteria, and another group accountable for another, or when our teacher competency is so uneven. The D.O.E. mandates to raise academic standards are tantamount to Lucille Davy shaking a stick at the section of road where Rte. 295 and 195 diverge: she can wave that wand all she wants, but those cars are traveling down different highways.