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 25, 2014

@GovChristie: Education Politics, Not Education Policy

Remember Chris Christie's big idea from this past winter? He was going to lengthen the school day and the school year. It was urgent that we do this immediately: "This is a key step to improve student outcomes and boost our competitiveness. We should do it now."

So, how's that going, Governor?
It was one of the centerpieces of Gov. Chris Christie’s State of the State address in January: a proposal to provide state help for schools to experiment with longer schooldays and years.

“Let’s face it, if my children are living under the same school calendar that I lived under, by definition, that school calendar is antiquated,” Christie said. “It’s antiquated both educationally and culturally for the world we live in." “Life in 2014 is much different than life 100 years ago, and it demands something more for our students,” he said. “It is time to lengthen both the school day and the school year in New Jersey.”
Six months later, both may have to wait. [emphasis mine]
A quick aside: as I have pointed out before, Chris Christie is a screaming hypocrite whenever he brings his own children into the debate about education. The Delbarton School -- an elite, high-spending private school where he sent his own sons -- takes a full three months off every summer. Of course, they then offer an extensive (and expensive) summer enrichment program, full of things like sports and SAT prep. I guess that's the sort of thing Christie thinks is "antiquated."

Getting back to John Mooney's piece in NJ Spotlight:

In the back and forth of the state budget hammered out this summer, Christie’s proposal for a $5 million “innovation fund” to help districts expand learning time was ultimately eliminated from the spending plan by the Democratic-led legislature.
There wasn’t much explanation, other than Democrats’ plans to instead put $2.5 million into grants to help districts implement initiatives already in place, including new teacher evaluation. The other $2.5 million went to balancing the budget as a whole.
But the cut has left the Christie administration looking for alternative resources to fund what the governor made a signature initiative, at least for this year.
“We are currently working to identify other funding sources that could be used for a pilot program,” said Michael Yaple, communications director for the state education department.
“Our goal will be to reprioritize either state or federal funds for a grant program to encourage school districts to implement innovative approaches that lead to more instruction time,” he said. “It would be less funding than we initially envisioned, but we believe we can still create a meaningful program nonetheless.”
That is, of course, utterly absurd. $5 million is next to nothing in a $33 billion budget, and the idea that it could fund a meaningful "pilot" program is beyond laughable.

You don't need a test program to know the funding problems inherent in lengthening the school day or school year. People need to be paid to work longer hours: charter schools do it (and make up the difference by largely restricting hiring to young, inexperienced teachers -- which they can get away with because they don't serve the same student populations as the public schools that feed them).

You also have to upgrade facilities so children aren't stuck roasting in classrooms without air conditioning in the summer months. Unless, of course, Chris Christie wants to give up his air conditioning in a sign of solidarity. How many of you think that's likely to happen?

The truth is that suburban kids have lots of options for summer enrichment, and parents are already concerned that the pace of their lives is too hectic as it is: there just isn't a lot of clamoring for extending the school day or the school year among more affluent families. For children in urban areas who are at an economic disadvantage, it would be obviously be very helpful to give them access to high-quality summer programs.

But does anyone think we can meet their needs with a mere $5 million? And does anyone think Chris Christie will raise the revenues needed to implement this idea?

As I wrote back in January, there is a very strong correlation between economic disadvantage and academic achievement.

But there is no correlation between the length of the school day and test scores:

So why did Christie introduce this cynical scheme back in January? Simple: Bridgegate was blowing up, and he needed a distraction. So he did what he always does: Chris Christie played politics with education policy.

This was never a serious proposal -- it was a feint, designed to get the editorial pages of the state's newspapers to stop writing about Bridget Kelly and to get the talk radio hosts to stop mentioning David Wildstein. It worked for a bit... but now that's over.

Rest assured, the only time you will ever hear Christie mention lengthening the school again is when he thinks he can get political mileage from it. Like every other public policy debate in which he engages, Chris Christie only cares how it affects his ambitions for higher office.

Governor, will you give up your air conditioning?


Giuseppe said...

Delbarton School where Christie's kids go: Six hours per day and the year is 163 days long. Class sizes can range from 11 to 15 students and the tuition is over $30,000 per annum. Gee, I thought throwing more money at schools was not the answer. The campus is gorgeous and sprawling, no expense was spared. But even this private school Eden had its problems: There was a sex abuse scandal in the late 1980s. http://www.nj.com/morris/index.ssf/2013/06/judge_refuses_to_drop_gag_orde.html
So will Campbell Brown and Michael Robertson be smearing the Delbarton School because of this sex abuse incident? That would be just as unjust as their smearing of public schools because of the sins of a small fractional minority of the teachers. But Brown and Robertson have an anti-union, anti-tenure and anti-public school agenda that makes it OK to swift boat and demonize public schools and their unionized teachers. How can you have a civil dialogue with vicious ideologues like Brown and Robertson?

Giuseppe said...

How can you have a civil dialogue with a duplicitous thug like Christie? He wants to lengthen the school day and year for public schools (not for the Delbarton School) but he does not want to pay the teachers for the extra hours of service and he will just happily ignore the teacher contract. Lowering class size would be a real benefit to the children not lengthening the school day and/or year. But of course the Rheeformers claim that class size does not matter. They claim that all you need is a miracle teacher in a class of 40 pupils and everything will be great and all the kids will go to Harvard or MIT.

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