Is He Being Ironic?December 1, 2008
NJASA Goes to State Court over DOE RegsDecember 3, 2008
Jerry Cantrell of the New Jersey Taxpayers Association chimes in today on the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Abbott districts. In a Times editorial he criticizes the NJEA and the Education Law Center for perpetuating the myth that more spending equals more achievement, trashes the Abbott districts, and announces the answer to all our ills: charter schools.
Let’s do the math. Should the Legislature let the court continue to override it (the new State funding formula) while funding an expensive, largely failing educational bureaucracy that taxpayers can’t afford, and students can’t afford to stay in? Or should it expand the lower-cost, more accountable charter sector — home to many of the state’s highest-performing schools, urban or suburban — in addition to leveraging available capacity in local private schools for k-12 and preschool?
Charter schools may very well be part of the answer to our educational conundrum here in New Jersey. However, a solution that ignores the main driver of the problem – the ineffectiveness and inefficiency of our home rule school system – is ornamentation at best. The Asbury Park Press recently ran a set of statistics culled from the DOE Report Card data and compared the cost per child in elementary school. Sea Isle City in Cape May County spends $33,805 per pupil and Hamilton Township in Mercer County spends $8,787 per pupil. Now, these districts are fairly disparate. Sea Isle City’s DFG is “B,” so it’s poor, and the whole district, one K-8 school, is 93 kids (no, that’s not a typo). Hamilton Township has 14,000 kids K-12, including 17 elementary schools; while not wealthy, it has a DFG of FG. Newsflash, folks: encouraging charter schools barely nibbles around the edges of our problem.
The Abbott decisions were noble and brave, demanding educational opportunities for our poorest children who decades ago largely resided in our large urban areas. But now this court-ordered infusion of money and government management has become an expensive anachronism. Our poor children live all over the state, including rural and suburban areas. The State government and the DOE have proven themselves incapable of managing our schools educationally and financially (some would argue ethically). The pending Bacon case (this NJEA Finance report lists the plaintiff districts on the second page) argues that 16 rural districts around the State are as needy as the 31 Abbotts, and will force the Court’s hand. The Justices will either have to rule that the logic underlying their original decisions is flawed and that there are children who live in non-urban areas who need increasingly expensive support. Or the Justices will have to concede that local administration of schools leads to local funding variation and the taxpayers have to pony up the differences, live with inequity, or take home rule and…
Lucky for us, there’s a serendipitous Wall Street Journal editorial today by Louis V. Gerstner, a former chair of the Teaching Commission and a former CEO of IBM. Mr. Gerstner’s solution?
I believe the problem lies with the structure and corporate governance of our public schools. We have over 15,000 school districts in America; each of them, in its own way, is involved in standards, curriculum, teacher selection, classroom rules and so on. This unbelievably unwieldy structure is incapable of executing a program of fundamental change. While we have islands of excellence as a result of great reform programs, we continually fail to scale up systemic change.
Therefore, I recommend that President-elect Barack Obama convene a meeting of our nation’s governors and seek agreement to the following:
– Abolish all local school districts, save 70 (50 states; 20 largest cities). Some states may choose to leave some of the rest as community service organizations, but they would have no direct involvement in the critical task of establishing standards, selecting teachers, and developing curricula.
At least he’s thinking big.