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

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bruce says...

Nice to have Bruce Baker stop by and leave some comments. Regrading my post on Larry Littlefield's analysis of the census data that just came out, Prof. Baker opines:
The apparent differences in categories of funding in the Census Fiscal survey often relate to differences in classification of funds that are difficult to nail down. I'll have to double check those numbers - but the instructional category can get particularly fuzzy for cross state comparisons.
All of these categories can get fuzzy. Case in point: one thing that's driven me crazy for years now is when pundits compare spending per pupil here in the US with other countries. The anti-public schools crowd crows "Look how much more we spend per pupil than these other countries!"

But those other countries' schools don't have to budget in health care costs, because every other industrialized country has nationalized health care (Bruce confirmed this for me a while ago). Same, I believe, with pensions. Makes a pretty big difference when you try to compare.

So Bruce's admonition to take this data with several large chunks of salt is well worth heeding. Still, as he's posted before, there is a disparity between NY and NJ salaries within the Greater NYC area that should at least give pause to those who claim NJ teachers are making a fortune.

Which brings me to a larger point:

I was really happy to see the Star-Ledger had the good sense to talk to Bruce and get his take on the Glen Ridge schools privatization story (my view: there's no way this is going to happen. But if Glen Ridge parents are seriously thinking this way, maybe that's a sign that we can finally have a real debate about the insane way we fund schools in this state).

One of the themes I've tried to push in this blog is that the biggest obstacle to making real reform in all aspects of NJ's governance is that we have a media that drives the debate from a position of ignorance. Pundits and "personalities" with no fundamental grasp of policy, no tools to analyze data, no training in fields other than daily journalism - too often, these are the people who set the agenda and push "facts" that are patently false ("NJ is the #1 taxed state in the country!" No, we aren't.).

Bret Schundler fell on his sword because a radio DJ didn't like the deal he cut with the NJEA - that's right, a guy who's job is to give you the weather and traffic every morning is scuttling deals that affect the education of our kids. This is where our debate is right now, and it's creating policy that is not well thought out, not well questioned, and may wind up hurting us in both the short- and the long-term. Combine this with a governor who fashions himself a "decider" (like a certain president we had not long ago) and who rushes to the large segments of the media that are sympathetic to his cause every chance he gets - well, it's a recipe for disaster.

One of the most important things needed to combat this creeping yahooism is regular analysis in the mainstream media by people who actually know what they are talking about. Getting folks like Bruce into the papers is a good start.

Of course, as a teacher, I wish my union would figure this out and start using the considerable dues I pay to drive a sustained message that challenges the idiocy that is out there. Hey, I can hope...

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