There’s daily chatter about the tussle in New Jersey between local school districts and the State Department of Education. Our beloved system of home rule has historically granted a fair amount of freedom to each school district to set curricula and infuse local values into the public school system. However, our newly dogmatic DOE is on a spree of standardizing everything from car leases to academic standards among our 615 school districts. The post below has some fun with the old children’s game, the hokey-pokey. But what we have here is a bit more serious, more like a zero-sum game. Take away power from the local district and give it to the State. Remove a mandate from the State and grant it back to a local district.
Is there any room for interdependence?
We’re not very good at that, not when hundreds of local officials want to be on the A Team, where NJEA has all the power players, and the DOE fumbles the easiest lobs.
Within the confines of our game cube it’s easy to forget that there’s another player out there – the Federal government, specifically the legislation No Child Left Behind. A couple of good pieces are out today discussing the impact NCLB is having on local districts. The New York Times reviews the mandate that all schools in the US will demonstrate 100% proficiency by the year 2014 (no hooting, please) and that this year the acceptable proficiency level jumped up an average of 11 points. The result? 1000 schools in New Jersey have now been blacklisted with the dreaded label, “School in Need of Improvement.”
According to the Times,
A state-by-state analysis by The New York Times found that in the 40 states reporting on their compliance so far this year, on average, 4 in 10 schools fell short of the law’s testing targets, up from about 3 in 10 last year. Few schools missed targets in states with easy exams, like Wisconsin and Mississippi, but states with tough tests had a harder time. In Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Mexico, which have stringent exams, 60 to 70 percent of schools missed testing goals. And in South Carolina, which has what may be the nation’s most rigorous tests, 83 percent of schools missed targets.
The Star-Ledger gets to the discrepancy between affluent districts that score pretty well and take little State and Federal money, and more impoverished districts that post worrisome scores and take more from the pot. Chatham, for instance, gets only 1% of its money from the Feds, but worries about the implausible proficiency levels demanded by NCLB. An AP Government teacher, Jim Menguerian, comments,
As the federal government, they are always looking for one-size-fits-all solutions…but education just doesn’t work that way.
On the other side of the coin, we have the example of Newark Public Schools, which gets a hefty 10% of its budget from the Federal government. According to the Ledger, in Newark
No Child Left Behind exerts a strong influence. But more than a third of the students still don’t graduate. Superintendent Clifford Janey said it’s time the federal government expand its role, not retreat from it. To me, education should be treated as a national security issue.