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

Friday, July 8, 2011

What Bruce Said

Now we're talking:
It is hypocritical for pundits who favor for their own children, expensive schooling with diverse curriculum, small class size and little standardized testing (freeing teachers to be professionals), to argue for less money, class size increases and increased standardized testing (and teacher evaluation based on those tests) when it comes to other peoples’ children.
Yes, I too personally favor expensive private schooling for the reasons I’ve indicated above. And yes, my private school significantly outspends both the elite suburban public school district where I live and New Jersey’s reasonably well funded urban districts (compared to other states, see: www.schoolfundingfairness.org).   The way I see it, I would not just be a hypocrite, but a complete a-hole if I used my pulpit (what little pulpit I have) as a school finance expert to argue that we should be spending less on others, advocating different policies for others than I desire for myself.  But it’s precisely because I spend my day buried in data on school finance and education policy that I see this glaring hypocrisy.
The difference is that I believe that other children – those whose parents are not able to make this expensive choice – should have access to well-funded schools that also provide small class sizes, diverse curriculum, and for that matter, place less emphasis on standardized tests, and treat teachers as responsible, knowledgeable professionals (not script reading stand-ins and test proctors).
To clarify, this is not a criticism of individuals with personal preferences for high quality education for their own children who are otherwise unconcerned with (or oblivious to) the broader public policy questions pertaining to the children of others. Rather, this is a direct criticism of those public officials and vocal “ed reformers” who prefer high quality, well funded education for their own and then loudly and publicly advocate for a very different quality (and type) of education for the children of others. [emphasis mine]
Let me add a few things here:

 - One of the other "advantages" that parents pay for when choosing elite private schools is the student population of that school. Elite private schools do not take children with serious learning disabilities, or emotional disabilities, or autism, or severe physical disabilities. Elite private schools routinely evict students who are troublesome or engage in criminal behavior. They take very, very few children in poverty on scholarship - and those are some very special kids.

Better than anyone, Bruce knows it costs more to educate the children elite private schools don't want. I don't know if his contention that elite private schools spend 1.96 times more than public schools takes this into account, but we should acknowledge that the kids at Delbarton and Lawrenceville do not need a whole host of services that public schools provide to students in need.

- I attended pubic, private, and parochial schools when I was a kid (we moved around a lot). My own children have attended public and private schools (they've moved a fair bit as well). One thing I've found is that what constitutes an "elite" private school is very much dependent on how the public schools in the area are doing.

Central and Northern New Jersey suburban public schools, by my very unscientific estimation, blow the doors off of "elite" Central Florida private schools. Thing is, a Florida private school doesn't have to set the bar very high, because the public schools are so awful. A New Jersey "elite" private school has to work much harder, because the public schools here are so much better.

Now Chris Christie and Chris Cerf and their merry band are coming into the 'burbs and imposing a "reform" agenda that not only has gutted the programs at these schools - they will unquestionably dumb down even the best suburban schools in the toniest towns. No more seniority - it's VAM for you, Chatham! Kiss your master bumps goodbye, Glen Ridge! Watch us force pay limits on your leaders, Millburn! Take these charters whether you want them or not, Bernards!

As qualified people flee the field (it's already happening), as extracurriculars get cut, and as the curriculum narrows, these schools will decline. And guess what? Suddenly, Pingry and Peddie won't have to work quite as hard to stay a few steps ahead.

What do you think will happen then?

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