I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"Race To The Top": Segregation Gone Wild!

Late last week, New Jersey announced which of its school districts would be applying for Race To The Top grants in a competition designed for individual districts. The controversial program started at the state level; it rewarded states with relatively small amounts of money for implementing policies like charter school expansion and using standardized test data to rank teacher effectiveness.

There is no evidence that any of this will work, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been completely incoherent on his reasons for pushing the program. No matter: RTTT marches on, now with individual districts vying for grants based on who can most quickly implement these unproven polices.

It's telling that only 21 districts out of the 603 in New Jersey thought enough of the program to even apply. Perhaps that's because so few of the stakeholders see any benefit from the grants: Ronnie Greco, president of the Jersey City teachers union, summed it up well when he pointed out to his fellow teachers that there was no benefit, and possibly great harm, in adopting the policies RTTT would have required.

Still, it appears at least one of the districts - Hamilton in Atlantic County (not Mercer) - went ahead over the objections of their teachers. Gee, great way to build a cooperative spirit, folks; maybe you should have read this message from the other Hamilton superintendent, Dr. James Parla, before going ahead.

But that got me thinking: why would Hamilton in Atlantic County apply, but not Hamilton in Mercer County? What makes a district more likely to apply, and subsequently adopt RTTT's unproven policies, if they win?

Well, all New Jersey school districts are assigned a District Factor Group (DFG) code. This code gives a picture of the socio-economic status of the residents in the district. A DFG of "A" indicates a district with a lot of poverty; a "J" indicates affluence. Which were the districts that applied?*

Look at that: not one district higher than an "FG" applied for the RTTT grant money. And look at the percentage of the total number of districts that applied in each DFG:

So if you live or teach in a poorer district, your school system was much more likely to apply for this grant, and implement the policies Arne Duncan promotes.

I'll go back, one more time, to a point Bruce Baker made about how the NJDOE classifies districts based on "performance":
If a school has lots of poor or minority students, it's much more likely to have to follow NJDOE's prescriptions, including teacher evaluations through test scores (as opposed to paying teachers more to attract a high-quality pool of educators into these districts; read Baker's post for more on this). And districts targeted for large-scale interventions from the state also stand out demographically:
- There are currently three schools districts under state control in New Jersey: Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City. We'll add Perth Amboy and Camden [both under threat of large NJDOE interventions] in for kicks and giggles. Here's a not-very-elegant look at the demographics for the state and these districts:

As you can see, these urban districts have many more minority students than the state as a whole (keep in mind my state total includes these five districts). What about students in poverty, as measured by Free Lunch/Reduced Lunch status?

Many more kids in poverty, huh? Gosh, what a shock...
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the school system of the 21st Century, as envisioned by federal officials like Arne Duncan and state officials like Chris Cerf!

- More federal and state interventions in schools with large minority and poor populations... but not a lot more money.

- Test-based evaluations forced on teachers though bribery in poor districts... but not necessarily in affluent ones.

- "Choice" in the cities... but not in the 'burbs.

- Local control in the 'burbs... but not the cities.

A two-tiered system of education, segregated by class and race, blessed by Democrats like Barack Obama and Cory Booker.

Did you ever think you'd see the day?

* NOTE: Deptford was counted twice; I really don't know why. Can anybody from Gloucester County clue me in?

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