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

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Tests Don't Fund Schools

So let me get this straight: rich white kids not taking enough tests is the civil rights issue of our time?

John White, as reformy a guy as you'll ever find, seems to think so (all emphases in this post are mine):
John White, state superintendent of Louisiana, took that argument further, calling state testing "an absolutely essential element of assuring the civil rights of children in America." 
White said broad testing is the only way to know which students are learning and which are not. Testing, he said, is the only way to know the truth of the "serious injustice" to low-income, minority or handicapped children that do not received a good education.  
"We should examine how and how much testing we do," White said last week. 
"But we should always be conscious that we still have a country and a society that is rife with inequity and injustices, and until the time when we can assure every family of an equal opportunity to achieve an excellent education, we must commit to an annual measurement of our delivery of an education so that we can lay bare the honest truth as to whether or not we succeeded in educating every child." 
He added: "The value of testing, at its essence, is that it tells the truth and that is a civil rights issue first and foremost and should not be forgotten by anyone," he said.
So does New York's reformiest testing maven, Merryl Tisch:
It used to be easy to ignore the most vulnerable students. Without assessments, it was easy to ignore the achievement gap for African-American and Latino students. Without an objective measure of their progress, it was easy to deny special education students and English Language Learners the extra resources they need. Obviously we still need to do more for those students, but now is not the time to put blinders back on.
And, of course, here in New Jersey, our reliably reformy education commission, David Hespe, thinks opting out of tests hurts our "struggling" schools the most:
Hespe said the tests are vital to efforts to deliver quality education statewide, including in currently struggling school districts, and that meddling by lawmakers risks creating a “social justice crisis in New Jersey’’ if the program is derailed.
Golly, if these three august champions of America's students believe that an expansive, intrusive, and expensive regime of noisy, biased testing is absolutely vital for making sure we provide a high-quality education for our most deserving students, who are any of us to disagree?

I mean, all three of these warriors for impoverished children and children of color know that tests are critical in their fight to ensure that kids born in disadvantage are getting adequate resources for their schools...

Aren't they?

Let's see how much personal political capital White is willing to risk to get more funds to Louisiana's children:
Louisiana Education Superintendent John White is trying to split the difference between two camps in a rough budget year. He proposed an $80 million increase in public school funding Wednesday (March 4) -- less than what a task force of educators, analysts and lawmakers wanted but more than twice what Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed. 
The governor and superintendent already are at odds over the Common Core education standards, and White has accused Jindal of punishing his agency financially. 
White proposed a 1.4 percent increase in the amount the state will give local school systems for each elementary and secondary student in the fiscal year that starts July 1. On top of that, he would add $8 million for special education, vocational classes and college work undertaken by high schoolers. 
Yes, a group of actual educators and other stakeholders told White what Louisiana's schools needed... and he promptly proceeded to ignore them. He crows about a paltry 1.4%, as if he had a huge triumph and reversed Louisiana's chronic underfunding of education.

Keep in kind that Louisiana is already one of the worst school funding offenders in the nation: a large number of wealthy families send their children to private schools, and the state expends little effort to provide the necessary resources for those children who stay in the public system.

You'd think John White might spare a word or two about education underfunding in between telling poor people that more testing will save their kids' schools. 

What about Tisch? Well, she certainly talks a good game: in her famous letter responding to NY Governor Cuomo's staff, she called for another $2 billion in state education aid. The budget wound up increasing aid by $1.6 billion. Impressed?

You shouldn't be. From the Education Law Center:
The Maisto case made clear that the crucial question in this year’s budget was this: Did the State redress the failure to fulfill its constitutional obligation to fund New York schools adequately, so that all children can have the opportunity for a meaningful high school education? 
The answer, once again, is no. The FY16 budget provides a $428 million increase in Foundation Aid, against the backdrop of the cumulative $4.7 billion shortfall in Foundation Aid. The budget provides $603 million in GEA restoration, but that is still half a billion dollars short of the $1.1 billion owed the districts. Also absent was a commitment to put the Foundation Aid formula back on track to full funding. 
The overall aid increase of $1.3 billion exceeds last year’s figure, but it falls far short of what New York students are entitled to. It also fails to mitigate the severe resource cuts over the past six years. 
An analysis of the FY16 budget by noted school finance expert, Bruce Baker, a witness for the Maistostudents, shows that these eight Small City districts still face significant funding gaps. For example, Utica, which has drastically cut its budget is still facing a nearly $4,000 per pupil funding shortfall.  The bottom line for Utica schools is a continuing lack of essential resources to serve a student population in which 83% are poor, 16% are students with disabilities, and 16% are English language learners speaking over 42 different languages. As Dr. Baker notes, in the districts that are home to what Governor Cuomo considers to be “failing” schools, the funding gaps, after the 2015-16 budget increase, range from over $1600 per pupil to almost $8,000 per pupil.
Read Bruce's full post about Angry Andy's funding failures, then ask yourself this: why isn't Merryl Tisch's advocating hard for full funding of New York's school aid formula? Where is her outrage at Cuomo's failure to fund the schools which she is charged with maintaining?

You'd think Merryl Tisch might spare a word or two about education underfunding in between telling poor people that more testing will save their kids' schools. 

Let's see what's happening with school funding in New Jersey, David Hespe's domain. Again, the ELC:
If Governor Christie’s proposed FY16 State Budget is allowed to stand, 2015-16 will mark the eighth year since New Jersey’s School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) was enacted, and the seventh year in which it is not being properly funded. The law was passed with the promise of dramatically changing the way that state school aid is distributed to districts, using an “equitable and predictable” weighted student formula that links resources to the costs of achieving the state’s academic standards. The State has failed to follow through on that promise and has underfunded the formula by over $6 billion in six years, with another $1 billion shortfall proposed for FY16.
New Jersey was on its way toward becoming a leader in school funding fairness; now, it consistently fails to live up to its own laws. But where is Hespe in the fight to provide schools with the resources they need?

Making excuses:
Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly is recreation coordinator for the Paterson schools. 
“Flat funding means less funding. Everything else goes up — program costs, teachers’ salaries, pensions and benefits,” he said. 
When Wimberly made that point to Hespe, the commissioner spun it this way: “I think flat funding was actually better than most people were expecting going into this budget for districts. The SFRA — the school funding formula — is underfunded by around $1.1 billion.” 
Yes, parents, David Hespe is fighting for your kids! Be happy that their schools are getting less money than the law says they should! After all, there's still so much fat to be cut:
Wimberly says his schools in Paterson will have to shed hundred of jobs in the coming year. 
“Obviously it’s well documented. Districts such as my largest district, they’re gonna have a layoff of 369 employees,” he said. 
“We are gonna see reductions in force in Newark, we’re going to see them in Camden,” Hespe said. 
Hespe said most districts can accommodate larger class sizes. 
“The research is actually supporting that class sizes can go a little higher than we have in a lot of our districts,” he said.
What an utter load of garbage: the "research" says no such thing. Hespe conveniently forgets that the state itself says it costs a certain amount of money to educate a child, and his boss, Chris Christie, refuses to provide that funding.

You'd think David Hespe might spare a word or two about education underfunding in between telling poor people that more testing will save their kids' schools. 

These education "leaders" go on and on about how critical testing is for helping poor children to get the education they deserve. They pretend that these tests only tell us something meaningful if they become so intrusive that they distort the curriculum and overwhelm the regular functioning of schools.

These reformy mandarins also pretend that they are courageous in the face of "special interests" -- you know, teachers and parents -- in their insistence that every child be subjected to hours upon hours of noisy, biased tests.

But their courage suddenly melts away when it comes time to stand up to moneyed interests and demand that taxes on the wealthy be raised to fully fund our nation's public schools.

Test do not fund schools. And it is both cowardly and illogical to demand that public schools meet certain test-based standards when politicians like White, Tisch, and Hespe are not prepared to fight to get the funding they themselves say is necessary to meet those standards.

Unless and until these fine, reformy folk are willing to stand up and demand that schools serving poor children get the funds they need, I don't want to hear any more of their tut-tutting at middle-class white people for opting their children out of standardized testing.

And their mouthpieces in the press and the bloggosphere and the think tanks -- those who consistently ignore the problem of inadequate and unfair school funding -- don't even deserve acknowledgment. Their indifference to the plight of impoverished children in underfunded schools, all while looking down their noses at those who opt their children out, speaks volumes.

I try not to think about school funding too much...

Me too.

But we still have enough to fund the tests, right?

1 comment:

Ajay Srikanth said...

It's not like we are literally putting students' health and safety at risk by underfunding. Oh wait...http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/06/04/33philly_ep.h33.html