Sunday, March 06, 2005

In response to Jenny D.

In response to this post, Jenny D. asked some difficult -- and very important -- questions:

Brink, Newark NJ schools spend $15,000 per pupil, more than any other K-12 district in the state. So tell me again about inequitable funding? If funding is the answer, then shouldn't Newark students be the top achievers in the state?

I'd like to thank you, Jenny, for plunging me into several hours of study on New Jersey schools in the midst of an otherwise perfectly enjoyable weekend. Here's what I found:

  1. In 1988, a New Jersey court concluded (in a case known as Abbott vs. Burke) a seven year trial and ruled that a few dozen poor school districts did not have enough funds to meet their constitutional mandate to provide a "thorough and efficient" education. Over the next 15 years or so, the state dragged its feet so badly, that several more lawsuits ensued and in 2002 in Abbott VIII (yes, there were 8 of these things), the courts ruled that New Jersey had still not complied with court orders to equalize funding. (For a complete timeline, click here.)
  2. The Newark schools which Jenny D. references (I didn't bring them up, she did) have been run by the state for nearly a decade now. The staet has done no better than the districts did, though.

  1. The new money has only arrived in the last few years and hasn't had time to make a significant impact yet.
  2. Newark throws into serious doubt a major piece of No Child Left Behind: the provision that allows for schools to be taken over by a state after four years' failure to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). What makes us think -- especially when looking at New Jersey's record -- that a state's "education SWAT team" (as they're often called) -- will succeed? Where' s the evidence for that? Here's an article from just this weekend from the North Jersey Herald on this very topic. First graf: "Fourteen years after the state seized Paterson public schools, the problems officials sought to erase persist. Test scores are far below standards. Buildings have structural, heating and plumbing problems. Audits report misspent dollars."
So back to Jenny's question: "If funding is the answer, then shouldn't Newark students be the top achievers in the state?" They should be, but the state took over the district and misspent the money. The fourth of year of NCLB is almost upon us. Are we to see replays of New Jersey all over the country?

Ball's back in your court, Jenny. I look forward to your response.


Blogger Jenny D. said...

How many years until the funding works? How long does it take for money to improve student outcomes? You are sure that there hasn't been enough time, so you must have some idea of how long is long enough. Enlighten me.

The other thing that you failed to note is that in the 1998 Abbott decision, the court specifically said that schools could NOT have more money and spend it on the same educational program. They were quite specific in demanding that schools enact instructional reforms, and that the increased funding be used to improve teaching.

The 30 Abbott school districts were livid at the idea that they couldn't simply get a check to spend as they pleased. Of course, there was some precedent for calling for reforms. In 1989, I believe, Newark spent the first of its Abbott money to hire a public relations person for the district staff. Hardly an educational reform.

In addition, Newark educators called the police and had an asst commissioner of education thrown in jail when she went to visit a Newark school to see how the money was being spent. School officials said she wasn't welcome because she hadn't been cleared to visit. The reporter who accompanied her was also put in jail.

Is it possible that the problems in Newark, and in other dysfuntional districts are about more than money?

So here's my question again: how long will it take for Newark's educators to come up with a plan to spend all the money that will improve student outcomes?

8:55 AM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

One other thing: the state can take over school districts, but it has limited power to remove or shift personnel. So the state takes over Paterson, Jersey City, Newark, and installs a superintendent...who is basically powerless to make changes. And that's pretty much the extent of the state's power in any takeover district.

Why do you assume that all educators in failing districts are doing a good job? Or are putting all they have in their jobs? Is it possible that some are not the world's most dedicated educators,and that their bad attitudes have permeated the whole district? Perhaps some of these educators need to be goosed by something (maybe legislation?) to do better?

8:59 AM  
Blogger Tom Hoffman said...

Jenny D. simply is not in favor of equitable funding for schools. There's no point in arguing with her about it. If a person doesn't see this as an issue of _equity_, so you might as well be talking to a wall.

11:13 AM  
Blogger Jenny D. said...

I am indeed for equitable funding. And I'm for equitable outcomes. If I were a parent in a poor urban district that was spending more per pupil than the suburban district down the road, I would want to see outcomes similar to that suburban district. And soon. My kid won't be a kid forever, so I want to see improved education as a result of that extra money. Don't show me the money--it's there. Show me improved teaching and outcomes. That's real equity.

1:46 PM  
Blogger Tom Hoffman said...

Look, Jenny, you aren't for equal funding. You just aren't. You have a clear record on this subject. Pointing out cases where higher levels of funding hasn't given equal outcomes is irrelevant. Have the courage of your convictions.

4:23 PM  

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