Category Archives: public education

>Taking On The Teachers

> 3/23/11
by Lawrence Davidson

Editor’s Note: The American Right has fully embraced Ronald Reagan’s mantra that “government is the problem” – and that dogma is being applied in a wide variety of ways, including a nationwide assault on the pay and job security of public school teachers.

Republican-controlled state legislatures and Republican governors are in the forefront of this campaign, advancing under the cover of parents’ concerns about their kids’ schooling and behind the idea that standardized tests can be a cure-all. In this guest essay, Lawrence Davidson challenges the assumptions behind this effort:

The Florida state legislature has passed Bill 736, and Gov. Rick Scott has signed it. So this effort to “reform” teaching practices in the Florida public schools is now law.

But reform them how? According to the Miami Herald, the bill will eventually “tie teacher pay to student test scores, eliminate so-called tenure for new hires as of July 1 [all subsequent hires will get only yearly contracts] and end layoffs based on seniority.”

It was, of course, a Republican-sponsored bill and that had the Democrats looking for flaws. It did not take them long to spot an obvious one.

According to the Florida House Minority leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West, “if you are basing a teacher’s pay on test scores, there’s going to be a natural incentive for the teachers to teach to the test, instead of, maybe, expanding other areas of interest.”

The Republican response to this concern was to dismiss it as a false issue. According to Rep. Eric Fresen, R-Miami, who sponsored the bill, “As long as the students are learning, I don’t think there’s a problem with that.”

The state of Florida is actually rather late in coming to this. The bill largely mimics the still-extent Bush administration policy known as “No Child Left Behind” which came into existence in 2003 and was overhauled by the Obama Administration in 2010.

As the Florida legislation suggests, this approach relies on assessment based on standardized tests and has made a lot of money for companies who put such tests together.

There are number of assumptions that lay behind all these efforts and here are some of them:

1. The American public school system is performing poorly.

2. This is the fault of bad teachers.

3. Getting rid of the tenure system will get rid of bad teachers.

4. Using standardized tests will allow you to measure necessary levels of learning for specific ages.

5. Having instituted such tests, the attainment of adequate scores means that both the student has successfully learned and the teacher has successfully taught.

It just so happens that all of these assumptions are problematic. Let’s take them one by one.

1. Is the American public school system performing poorly? Well, yes and no. There are plenty of supposedly scary statistics out there that show that the majority of public school students are not fully proficient in a number of academic areas, given a definition of proficiency set by standardized tests.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Education reports that, as of 2009, 17 percent of 12th graders are proficient in math and 18 percent are proficient in Science (let’s keep these percentages in mind), and that “in comparison to 1992, reading scores were lower in 2009.”

However, these statistics beg the question of what criteria is being used to determine proficiency? Or, if you will, just what does it mean to be educated?

Historically (and here I mean from the dawn of civilization onward), the notion of educational proficiency has always been tied to making a living. In other words, either through apprenticeship or formal schooling, what most children have learned over the ages is what their economic environments required of them.

Applied to our own time this means that, for all students in all schools, there are two curricula. Whether you want to be a lawyer or an auto mechanic, the primary curriculum is vocational and the second one is, shall we say, elective.

This elective category may or may not include independent critical thinking which, in any case, is a pursuit that is often disapproved of by local school boards.

By the time American kids are in junior high school, they usually know the difference between what is vocationally valuable and what is not, and most gear their learning efforts to what they believe are their future career interests.

That means vocational learning will most often trump elective learning. It also means that it is not the school per se, or the teachers, that are actually setting the criteria for learning. It is the economy and the student’s local culture.

So, if the economy demands reading and writing abilities at the level of business memos and technical reports, that is the proficiency, on average, that you will get. On average, all learning beyond that, regardless of the courses taken, will be seen by the student as elective and will be absorbed (or not) depending on personal interest.

Ask yourself how many American students want to – or will be required to – know anything beyond basic math in their future workplace? Seventeen percent sounds like a roughly accurate number. How many are going to want to – or have to know – much science? Eighteen percent sounds about right.

Thirty years ago, computer savvy was not a job-related skill. Schools largely ignored it and relatively few people had real proficiency in this area. Today, the situation is reversed. So you see for most students, and their schools, useful knowledge is deemed to be employment knowledge.

Actually, almost all American schools, even the “failing” ones, deliver employment knowledge. You might think that this claim is off-base, but it really is not.

High-end public schools cater to students, most of whom by virtue of their cultural background, have professional career expectations. And that is the educational preparation they get. Just so, low-end schools (admittedly underfunded) cater to students, most of whom have very different expectations, and they are educated accordingly.

I am not claiming this is a good thing, only that this is the way it works. If you want to change it, you have to change culturally driven expectations and the structural nature of the economy.

Just looking at tests and teachers won’t do it. To achieve this sort of change means a lot of social rearrangement and revenue shifting. Historically, the U.S. has never been willing to do these things.

2. And that brings us to our second assumption. If you are not satisfied with the status quo in education, but are not willing to acknowledge where the real problems lie, you might be tempted to find a scapegoat.

So, it all becomes the fault of bad teachers.

First of all it should be determined what is meant by bad teaching. Do we define it by poor student scores on a standardized test? Or do we define it as the failure or inability to make a good faith effort to address the required material?

It should be kept in mind that you can have the first without the second. I would be very suspicious of the first definition because of the reasons given above. So let use the second definition. Given that meaning, are there bad teachers in our public school system? Yes there are.

But it is highly doubtful if, in terms of percentage, they number any more than bad administrators, bad bank managers, bad lawyers, bad doctors, and even bad Florida state politicians, etc.

Nor is it true that, allegedly unlike the other categories, teachers are “insulated from accountability.” Almost every public school teacher in the country is under contract.

One assumes that failure to teach competently is a breach of a teacher’s contract. Just as in all other contractually governed employment settings, it is the administrator’s (the principal’s) job to document the situation and fire the worker who is not doing his or her job…..

Finish reading this essay by Lawrence Davidson >>> here


Filed under, economics of education, Florida, Gov. Rich Scott, Lawrence Davidson, Miami Herald, no child left behind, public education, Ronald Reagan, student culture, teacher tenure, Teachers

NJPP Monday Minute 4/12/10: Budget Cuts Hurt School Kids

The Monday Minutes for the next weeks will focus on spending issues in the FY 2011 budget. They will address proposals that affect different populations in New Jersey: school children, college students, working families, seniors, among others. It is not possible to analyze everything so the proposals selected will address small but important programs that have a particularly large impact on certain populations.

While New Jersey continues to struggle with the effects of the recession, Governor Christie’s budget eliminates $15.9 million in state funding for three important programs that help working families, their children and the schools they attend. If the Legislature includes these cuts in its final budget, many children will lose important, life sustaining benefits that help them from the time they eat breakfast in the morning until they go home at night.

The Governor’s proposed budget:

Eliminates all State funding for the school breakfast program: $3.0 million
Cuts State funding for the school lunch program: $2.4 million
Eliminates State funding for the New Jersey After 3 program: $10.5 million
School Breakfast and Lunch Programs

The Christie administration proposes to cut $5.4 million from school breakfast and lunch programs in the coming year. Luckily the federal government provides important (but not sufficient) funds so these vital programs will continue but at a reduced level.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reimburses schools between 24 cents and $2.70 for the cost of meals they provide to children depending on the meal and the family’s income. A child in a family of four earning less than $27,560 is entitled to a free breakfast and lunch at school. The school is reimbursed between $2.50 and $2.70 by the federal government for that lunch. As family income rises, the school receives a smaller reimbursement. But even for children who pay the full price, the school receives between 24 cents and 33 cents per meal from USDA.

Cutting the state subsidy for meals provided by school districts will likely raise the meal prices charged to kids, reduce the quality of meals served or create a deficit in the food service program. If food services are provided by a private company and the costs of meals are fixed by contract, fewer children will probably be fed.

Access has been a problem in the school breakfast program. Although state law mandates that school districts with a 20 percent participation in the free and reduced price school lunch program must also participate in the school breakfast program, New Jersey ranked among the bottom ten states for school breakfast program participation in the 2008-2009 school year, according to the Food Research and Action Center. Only 38 out of every 100 students in New Jersey’s school lunch program also participated in the school breakfast program.

Expanding the school breakfast program in the past has been a priority. The Association for Children of New Jersey expects these budget cuts will curtail efforts to expand the program. Obstacles to feeding more children breakfast include the cost to the school of having adequate adult supervision for the students before they begin class and preparing the meals. A $3 million cut to the school breakfast program reduces state reimbursement to schools by 10 cents per breakfast served. Losing this revenue will particularly hurt school districts with successful school breakfast programs, such as schools in Newark which offer universal school breakfast and serve as a national model.


Most working parents don’t finish work before 3 pm. Studies show that high quality after-school programs expand student learning time and keep kids safe.

Founded in 2004, New Jersey After 3 is a public/private partnership that works with local nonprofit agencies who collectively operate 115 programs-in local Ys, Boys and Girls Clubs, Jewish Family Services, and other organizations-that provide safe high quality affordable after school programs in 29 towns to approximately 12,000 students.

The Christie administration proposes eliminating the entire $10.5 million appropriation for the program in FY 2011. Since its inception, this program has raised approximately $45 million in non-state financial support. Among its lead investors are PSE&G, Bank of America, Americorps, Capital One Bank, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Novartis, Victoria Foundation, Verizon, JPMorganChase, PNC Bank, Sanofi Aventis, State Farm Insurance, the US Golf Association, the US Tennis Association and the Trenton Public Schools. With no state funding, it will fall on these lead investors to make up the state’s investment in these programs. Failing that, programs will close and/or after school child care costs will be unsustainable for many working parents.

Governor Christie’s mid-year budget cuts in February eliminated half of New Jersey After 3’s funding, leaving working parents with the dilemma of putting their children in more expensive programs or risk losing their jobs when they leave work early to pick up their kids from school. One mother from Vernon, New Jersey told the Star-Ledger that the New Jersey After 3 program at her local school gave her daughter high-quality care right on school grounds for $900 less per month then she was paying a private center. “I know they’re safe, they’re fed, they’re cared for.” This was important given that she and her husband each work an hour away from Vernon.

When Governor Christie proposed his budget he spoke of shared sacrifice, but corporations and the wealthiest New Jerseyans are not being asked to pay more. Rather, New Jersey’s children, their parents and the teachers and support staff who work with them are asked to sacrifice tremendously. Cuts to programs that hurt kids and put their parents’ and teachers’ jobs at risk in a shaky economy – that’s too much sacrifice.


Filed under budget cuts, Gov. Chris Christie, Monday Minute, New Jersey Policy Perspective, public education, school kids, school lunch programs, senoir citizens

Gov. Corzine: Children only get one shot at being a child — one chance at a quality education

As my two boys get ready to for their first day of school today, I thought that the following piece written by Gov. Corzine would be of interest to some of you.

This commentary appeared at the NewJerseyNews Room:

Next to fixing the economy, nothing has been more important to me during my four years in office than educating our children. As we faced a global recession in a year of declining revenues, our funding for education increased because I believe we have an obligation to provide adequate funding for public education.

The reason is simple. Children only get one shot at being a child — one chance at a quality education.

An investment in education is an investment in the economic well-being of New Jersey. Companies come to New Jersey or remain in the state if there is a well-educated workforce that can meet the company’s needs. For years, this state has had a reputation for having such a workforce. By spending wisely on education, that tradition will continue.

That is why I have refused to cut state aid to education. Across the board, communities in this state saw their state education aid go up or remain level this year — a remarkable accomplishment given the economic downturn the state faced.

Since I became Governor, state aid to education has gone up $1.8 billion including federal funds. From preschoolers to college students, we have worked to protect children and to ensure we are continuing to deliver a world class education.

Let’s talk about preschool. Chris Christie has called it government sponsored “babysitting.” His statements suggest he has not paid attention to the research. The evidence shows that disadvantage kids often arrive at school two or three years behind their peers because they have not been exposed to the kind of early learning experiences that enrich a child’s life and prepare him or her for kindergarten. We are seeking to reverse that trend by providing preschool to all at-risk students and by expanding full day kindergarten. When school starts this September, more than 51,000 children will be enrolled in preschool statewide. No other state in the nation has invested more in preschool than we have here in New Jersey.

Five years into this effort, it is clear we are laying a foundation that will give these children a chance to excel as they continue in school. Just this year, a new study on the effects of preschool found that children who attended high-quality preschool programs outperformed their peers in first and second grades. In short, our efforts are paying off.

In the world in which we live today, we cannot wait until children are 5 years old to begin to expose them to learning. If we are going to compete in the global economy, children have to start early. So even though we faced tremendous stress on our budget, I was committed to funding preschool in communities where it has already started. In fact, we increased funding for preschool by almost $50 million, largely in the former Abbott districts. And, we are now spending nearly $600 million on preschool in New Jersey.

We are able to achieve some of this because of support from the federal government. Like Governor Sarah Palin and other Republicans, Chris Christie would have turned down billions in federal educational funds. That’s just plain irresponsible.

Read more >>> Here

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Filed under Abbot school districts, Chris Christie, first day of school, Gov. Jon Corzine, New Jersey Newsroom, o, Pre-school, public education