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

Monday, March 26, 2012

Who's Copping Out?

The problem in our poorest schools these days is that teachers just don't care enough:
Some teachers, including Passaic County Education Association President Joseph Cheff, argue that in schools with high concentrations of very poor students, poverty has to be alleviated before achievement can improve. New Jersey’s acting education commissioner, Chris Cerf, says that’s a cop-out.
“Of course poverty and circumstances play a very significant role in academic outcomes,” Cerf said. “But the standard is, can we do better?”
Teacher quality is the biggest in-school factor affecting achievement, many studies say. That motivates a key requirement of the School Improvement Grant: replacing half the staff. That wasn’t easy. Nobody outside the district applied last summer to work there, only two Paterson teachers asked to transfer in, and the district had to find spots for School 10 teachers who lost positions. When school opened, there were still 16 vacancies among 65 positions. It took months to fill them.
I am being serious when I ask: what the hell does Cerf mean? That teachers have to do better no matter what the realities of a child's life are? Why can't we deal with both sides of the problem?

I've made this analogy before: if I scarf a dozen donuts every morning, I'm not going to lose weight, no matter how much I increase the milage on my daily runs. Yes, we should work to improve instruction, teacher quality, and school environments, but that will never be enough.

Here's a key part of the research this article doesn't mention: even though teachers are the biggest in-school factor in student achievement, they still only count for 10-15% of the total effect. Important? Sure. The most important factor? No way. 60% of the total is student and family background characteristics.

Further, funding differences between schools can account for more than half of the difference in performance. It's worth pointing out that ACTING Commissioner Cerf serves at the pleasure of a governor who is looking to cut funding for at-risk children by at least $400 million. That may well explain why it was so hard to find teachers willing to serve these beautiful and deserving children.

It's not a cop-out to point out these facts; the real cop-out is wagging a finger at teachers while refusing to do anything meaningful about the problems at-risk children face every day.

ADDING: A much more comprehensive view of the relationship between funding and student achievement, authored by Bruce Baker, is found in this brief published the Shanker Institute.


Anonymous said...

So, Duke, the darn poor kids are dragging you down.

So why aren't you supporting the OSA? Pre-sorted, they are only taking poorer kids. Off to private school, not in your performance concerns anymore.

Unknown said...

What OSA are you speaking of Anon? It certainly isn't the one being proposed by our governor.

Anonymous said...

So charter schools and school vouchers are going to take care of all the poor kids in Newark and Camden? In what alternate universe? There aren't enough private or religious schools to take but a small fraction of the students.

Anonymous said...

Can't speak for Duke, but OSA will do more to help kids already enrolled in Lakewood Yeshivas than it will affect any systemic change for NJ's poorest students. Gee, anon.. maybe you meant to say that Duke would no longer have to worry about the less than 5% of poor students who'd be "helped" by OSA (in quotes because after 20+ years there is ZERO evidence that vouchers have affected the achievement gap at ALL).

So what? OSA is a scam. A giveaway. False hope sold as snake oil to poor communities whose residents aren't wise to the hedge-fund flim-flam.

Sorry, B4K (Derrell, etc)... your ad blitz can buy you a thousand FB likes, but it can't buy you facts.

Anonymous said...

Can't speak for Duke, but OSA will do more to help kids already enrolled in Lakewood Yeshivas than it will affect any systemic change for NJ's poorest students.

False. The previous version allowed for 25 percent of scholarships to go to existing private school students -- now that number is zero.As to complaints that the pilot program is too small and won't help enough students -- I agree. Call your legislators and get it expanded.

Anonymous said...

You are incorrect. The Kean bill primarily benefits Lakewood and Passaic yeshiva students: http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/12/0326/0014/

Again, for the billionth time, there is nothing systemically sustainable about voucher schemes/scams. They're a way to siphon off some public money into private hands. Once anyone, Derrell, can show vouchers do anything at all, then we can talk.

Duke said...

From the text of the Kean bill, p.14:

To be eligible to receive a scholarship, a low-income child must 41 either: 1) attend a chronically failing school, 2) received a 42 scholarship in the previous school year and continue to reside in the 43 targeted district, 3) reside in a targeted district and attend one of the 44 district’s public schools that is not a chronically failing school, or 4) 45 in the subsequent school year, would be eligible to enroll in a 46 chronically failing school in the lowest grade, other than preschool, 47 operated by the school. The last category of students would include 48 those currently enrolled in a nonpublic school.


So that's pretty clear.

All I ever ask is that when someone asserts something as fact, they give a source.