Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Speaking of Unsustainable School Costs,

In The Lobby muses today on New Jersey's "Gordian knot," our property tax crisis:
So far this year, teacher contracts are averaging increases of more than 4%. This at a time when the average annual pay raise is about 2%, and experts are expecting it to be even lower than that next year.

How can taxpayers keep up if their teachers are getting raises that are 100% bigger than theirs?

No wonder people are fleeing the state in droves.
Well, it's not really the fault of the teachers, though they may be the beneficiaries. What can you expect when you have 600 separate school boards negotiating with 600 separate local units of the NJEA? Or when you have a weak-kneed Legislature mandating a non-binding arbitration process that favors the status quo?

When a school board decides to resist annual 4+% annual raises, a state-appointed mediator comes in and renders a non-binding decision based on settlements within the county. If either the board or the local bargaining unit rejects the decision, it goes to another state-appointed mediator/fact-finder/super conciliator who renders another non-binding decision based on settlements within the county. If the process wasn't tautological enough, word has it that the mediators feel compelled to maintain current increases because if their decisions direct otherwise they'll lose their livelihoods.

How do we extract ourselves from the endless loop? County-wide negotations might be one way to go. Or let's dream on: annual raises tied to COLA, with possible bumps for meritorious performance. It would put us right in line with Obama's Race To The Top criteria, which might help a bit with our property taxes too.

$27K Per Kid and It's Not Even An Abbott District

What better advertisement for school district consolidation than the Pascack Valley area of Bergen County comprising four little towns, Montvale, Woodcliff Lake, Hillsdale, and River Vale? Right now, these four municipalities operate as four separate K-8 school districts with 1,050 kids in Montvale, 900 kids in Woodcliff Lakes, and about 1400 kids each in Hillsdale and River Vale. Each “school district” has a school board, a full-time superintendent, a business administrator, special services coordinator, etc. Then they merge all their high school students into a fifth district, the two-building Pascack Valley Regional High School District, also with its own school board, superintendent, business administrator. You get the picture.

This arrangement dates back to 1955, except for one little change made by the state in the ‘70’s: while each town used to pay for high school educational services on a per pupil basis, school taxes are now based on housing values.

In 2007 Montvale and Woodcliff commissioned a feasibility study to see what would happen if they withdrew from the two-building Pascack Valley High School District and formed a pre-K through 12th grade district together using one of the high school buildings. The Record reports today that the new district would save taxpayers of the two towns a cool $4 million per year. Key point:
According to the report, in the 2008-2009 academic year, Hillsdale paid $15,039 per high school student, Montvale $22,954, River Vale $17,741 and Woodcliff Lake $27,860.
So Montvale and Woodcliff get squeezed while Hillsdale and River Vale walk away with a bargain. (We’ll point out here that $15K - $17K per student is wildly high compared to the rest of the country, though in Pascack Valley it’s a steal.)

Officials in Hillsdale and River Vale are apoplectic and have sworn to fight any attempt to reconfigure the regional district.

Meanwhile, one has to wonder whether any town anywhere should be paying either $22K (Montvale’s cost) or $27K (Woodcliff Lake’s cost) per student for a public school education.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chris Christie Has Posted Rebuttals to Corzine's Slaps

at his education agenda and snuck in a few sucker-punches of his own. Some highlights: Corzine used one-time ARRA funds to fill education holes in his 2010 budget, N.J.’s achievement gap between minority and white students is alarmingly high, and half the kids in Newark and Camden can’t pass the High School Proficiency Assessment. Christie also says that he supports universal preschool but we can’t afford it (neither can Corzine – he first proposed and then withdrew the funding) and that he would, in fact, accept stimulus money for education.

"Utopian Goals" and Special Education

Let us build a law that demands real accountability tied to growth and gain in the classroom – rather than utopian goals – a law that encourages educators to work with children at every level – and not just the ones near the middle who can be lifted over the bar of proficiency with minimal effort. That’s not education. That’s game-playing tied to bad tests with the wrong goals.
That’s Arne Duncan speaking Friday to a crowd at the U.S. Department of Education on his priorities for fixing No Child Left Behind, the federal legislation that measures student learning and is intended to provide accountability for our nation’s schools. Key phrase: “utopian goals,” a hint that the Obama Administration intends to back off the pie-in-the-sky idea that every child in America will reach proficiency in language arts, math, and science by 2014.

NCLB has been a great tool for focusing on our achievement gap between poor students and wealthy students. 100% proficiency is another matter entirely, especially when that goal includes children with developmental disabilities. It’s like demanding that a kid in a wheelchair should run a mile at the same rate as a child with full use of his legs, or that a child with a hearing impairment pass an auditory assessment.

Okay. It’s not quite that stark. There are children with certain disabilities – Asperger’s Syndrome, for a trendy example – who are intellectually gifted in spite of social delays. And we can provide cognitively-disabled children with all sorts of accommodations on state assessments: more time, people to read questions to them, as many breaks as they need, augmentative technology, etc. It's wonderful that NCLB has forced schools to focus on the academic needs of children classified as eligible for special education. But is it educationally sound to insist that a 9th grader functioning at the intellectual level of a 5th grader take a 9th grade-level test? A small proportion of children with developmental delays are allowed to hand in portfolio-type assessments (estimated to take per child per subject about 80 teaching hours). But after a district hits that percentage (usually about 2% of its most disabled students), the rest are subjected to the standard assessment. For many of these children the ordeal is traumatic and frustrating. Yet NCLB, true to its utopian ideals, sanctions schools that educate students who will never make the cut.

Here’s an example. Edison Public School District in Middlesex County has two high schools: – J.P. Stevens High School and Edison High School. The former has passed all 41 requirements of No Child Left Behind. The latter passed 40 out of 41 because it missed the cut-off in language arts for special education students, It’s now in its second year of a School In Need of Improvement (SINI). The result is that high schoolers at Edison have the option of transferring to J.P. Stevens.

How different are the two high schools? Not much. (Here's the DOE data.) J.P. Stevens has about 170 more kids. They both boast good HSPA scores, though Edison’s are slightly worse. The demographics are different: J.P. Stevens is in the more affluent north side of town and 39.8% of the kids learned English as their first language. 15.8% have Gujarti as their first language, 12.4% learned Mandarin, and 5.1% learned Hindi first. At Edison High, 56.6% are native English speakers and 11.9% are native Hispanic speakers. But here’s a key difference: at J.P. Stevens, 7.4% are eligible for special education services and at Edison High it’s 13.3%.

This discrepancy probably accounts for Edison High’s failure to meet NCLB requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress in special education. While it’s refreshing to let students choose high schools in a state that locks its kids into tiny districts, it’s for all the wrong reasons. High standards for all children -- developmentally delayed or not -- is a good thing. Utopian standards are another matter entirely.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Leftovers

This Week's Race To The Top Rumors:

1) There will be only one round of submissions for funding reform, instead of the original two. (Tom Vander Ark.)
2) While those in the know originally estimated winning applications to be limited to 6 or 8 states, the Gates Foundation's financial assistance of $250K during the onerous application process to 15 states will substantially increase the pool of winners. Gates' favorites are Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas (though no one expects Texas to win.) (Eduflack.)
3) The Gates Foundation is going to offer help to the other 35 states who didn’t get the first round of $250K checks if they meet 8 criteria, including whether states have signed onto the NGA-CCSSO common standards effort, whether they have alternative routes to teacher certification, and whether they have no firewall barring the use of student achievement data in teacher evaluations. (Edweek.)

What Happens When A Small K-8 District Negotiates Against NJEA:
Long Hill Township in Morris County just settled a contract with their teachers’ union. Salary increases will be 4.3%, 4.3%, and 4% over the next three years. Teachers will make no contribution to their health insurance premiums. Superintendent Rene Rovtar explains and The Record editorializes,
"We're really negotiating against the NJEA (New Jersey Education Association) and the entire state," Rovtar said. One K-8 school district against the most powerful public union in the state is hardly a fair fight.

The problem is that under current rules, any deadlock in negotiations winds its way to state mediation and fact-finding. The result likely will be that teachers get what is the average increase in the county, which is about 4.5 percent.

What is needed is for the rules to change so that mediators and fact finders can take general economic conditions under consideration. A nearly double-digit unemployment rate should impact teacher contracts. As of now, it doesn't, and that is a problem the state Legislature and the gubernatorial candidates should address
Out of Room in Jersey City:
Jersey City, an Abbott district required to provide full-day preschool to all 3 and 4 year olds, is out of space. So over a hundred youngsters are on a waiting list despite the fact that Jersey City received $56 million for services and, notes David Sciarra of the Education Law Center, “the children are legally entitled to attend the program.

DOE Approves 8 New Charter Schools:
The 8 winners, out of 27 applications, are Hoboken Dual Language Charter School in Hoboken, Trillium Charter School in Hunterdon County, the Academy for Urban Leadership Charter School in Perth Amboy, Hatikvah International Academy Charter School in East Brunswick, Charter High School for Environmental and Civics Studies in Teaneck, Barack Obama Green Charter School in Plainfield, Visions Academy Charter High School in Newark, and Newark Legacy Charter School in Newark.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Separate and Unequal in Jersey

Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan called education “the civil rights issue of our generation.” It’s certainly the civil rights issue of New Jersey. Check this out:

The Burlington County Times just reported on bleak Willingboro High School, a low-performing district in Burlington County. At a recent meeting, students complained that expectations were so low for academic performance that many of them are in both honors and remedial classes. Only 48% of the last year’s graduating class passed the HSPA, (the state assessment that EdSec Lucille Davy described as a middle school-level test), though another 40% received diplomas through the Special Review Assessment. The school itself is in its 6th year as a School In Need of Improvement under NCLB.

Willingboro Township (here’s a map of Burlington County and its municipalities) shares borders with Delran, Moorestown, and Burlington Townships, all which offer high schools that meet NCLB requirements. Regarding demographics, Delran is 83% White, Burlington is 68% White, and Moorestown is 89% White. Willingboro is 92% African-American.

So the Black students are cordoned off within one failing district, surrounded by high-performing high schools populated with mostly White students.

Here’s another recent news story from CentralJersey on Edison Public Schools. Edison High School has just been labeled as a School In Need of Improvement through NCLB but, luckily for students, there’s a second high school in the township, J.P. Stevens High, and NCLB sanctions allow Edison High kids to transfer there. Now, it’s unclear how that would work if all 1900 Edison High students took that option (so far only 12 have). At least they have a choice.

There’s no other high school in Willingboro School District.

What if we allowed students from failing high schools to transfer to successful high schools, even if that meant crossing a township border? What if the DOE partnered with successful charter organizations to replace diploma mills (or SRA mills) like Willingboro with actual schools where kids had equal opportunities to succeed academically like their neighbors in the next town? When did we start condoning separate and unequal?

Update: The Star-Ledger now reports that parents have requested that 34 students be transferred from Edison H.S. to J.P. Stevens and wish they had been notified of that option when school district officials knew about it in August.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Preschool Math

Under orders from the DOE to provide free full-day preschool to about 600 3-and 4-year olds, the Berkeley Board of Education has asked administrators to figure out how much it will cost, reports The Asbury Park Press. The Board of this K-6, 4-school district in Ocean County is looking for an estimate that includes the required transportation and facilities (though the system doesn’t have enough school buses to transport the children, nor does it have the room). The Board has this question for the DOE, which promised last year to pay for the programs and then reneged:
"We want to know that the state will fund preschool for five years," board President James Byrnes said at Thursday's board meeting. "We don't want to start the program up, hire teachers and then find out there's no state money for the program after the first year."
Let’s do the math. The State has estimated the cost per pupil at between $11,205 and $12,596 per year. (DOE guidelines appropriately limit classes to 15 kids with one teacher and an aide.) So the total cost per year for Berkeley with its 600 eligible youngsters is somewhere between $6,723,000 and $7,557,600 per year, not including additional school buses or facilities. Berkeley has a fairly reasonable total cost per pupil of $13,751 (remember this is N.J.) so we’ll estimate their total budget at about $27,000,000. Therefore, providing full-day preschool will increase Berkeley's budget by 26%.

Berkeley School District has a District Factor Grouping of “B,” which means that the State gives it the second lowest socio-economic rating. A is the poorest; J is the wealthiest. Corzine’s new School Funding Reform Act, which supplants the Abbott decisions as the school funding mechanism for N.J., mandates that each child living in poverty, whether he or she lives in an impoverished urban area or not, be given the “Abbott extras,” i.e., after-school programs, summer sessions, tutoring, and full-day preschool. That’s how Berkeley ends up having to provide free preschool to 600 kids.

Free public preschools for poor kids is a magnificent idea. The problem in New Jersey is the price per kid. The National Institution for Early Education Research (NIEER) has a data base of preschool information, and N.J.’s cost per pupil is number 1 in the country: $10,989. Here’s the cost per pupil in surrounding states: Pennsylvania: $6,252; New York: $3,948; Connecticut: $9,393 (second highest); Delaware: $6,795; Massachusetts: $3,811. Averaged out across the states that offer preschool, we pay more than twice as much per child.

It’s unsustainable, especially in a state buffeted by falling housing values, retreat of businesses, and enormous debt. But Corzine has to go ahead with it or he’ll violate his hard-won School Funding Reform Act, which he touts as one of the biggest accomplishments of his administration.

Can it work? Can we provide free preschool to all poor kids regardless of where they live? Not if we pay twice as much and not if we insist on having each of our 600 districts create classrooms and programming independently. The only financially feasible option is to make preschools county-wide and find ways to cut the costs. Make it the bailiwick of our new Executive County Superintendents and let them look for efficiencies of scale. Does it have to be full-day (especially since some districts in N.J. have ½ day kindergartens)? Can we create partnerships with local teaching colleges to provide teacher interns? How about county-wide charter preschools?

The only way to make the math work – if it can work at all – is if we wrench ourselves from the bejeweled box of local governance. Although, of course, you could say the same thing for our kindergarten-12th grades too.

Quote of the Day

You have high government spending at the local level. New Jersey spends a lot on education, for example. You can ask yourself, do you get what you pay for?
Gerald Prante, senior economist with the Tax Foundation, a non-profit group that analyzed Census data released this week and concluded that N.J. has the highest property taxes in the nation (Star-Ledger).

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Quote of the Day

Chris Daggett on teacher tenure: "What other profession gets lifetime protection?"
NJEA response: "What he’s saying is not something that’s doable.
Repartee courtesy of Tom Moran in the Star-Ledger.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Supreme Court's Educational Equity Metric

Does the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Horne v. Flores have any impact on New Jersey’s school funding system? On June 25th, the Court ruled that measuring educational equity by compensatory funding-- the way we do it in the Garden State - is unconstitutional. However, our history of Abbott funding and our new School Funding Reform Act rely on that definition. Are we now out of compliance with legal precedent?

Here’s a quick overview. (Here’s the full text.) The 5-4 decision, written by Justice Alito and signed by Justices Scalia (two Jersey boys!), Roberts, Kennedy, and Thomas, argues that disparities in school funding are irrelevant to equal opportunity. The harsh dissent, authored by Justice Breyer and signed by Justices Stevens, Ginsberg, and Souter, argues that school funding is, in fact, directly relevant to equity. It's a microcosm of a global debate, and the funding=equity proponents just lost, at least in Nogales, AZ. In other words, the Supreme Court has ruled that school funding formulas that disregard academic performance won’t stand up in court.

It’s not about input. It’s about output.

A quick overview: the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction and members of the Arizona state legislature challenged the judgments of the U.S. District Court of Arizona and the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit over a civil contempt charge that the state had failed to adequately fund English Language Learners (ELL) programs in Nogales, a poor town of 20,000 people on the border of Mexico. The State Legislature had responded to the class action suit brought by parents and students in Nogales by increasing ELL funding by $80 per pupil per year with a two-year limit for the money. Both lower courts ruled that the $80 increase was inadequate and not rationally related to the needs of ELL’s and that the two-year limit was equally “irrational.” While the Legislature proceeded to incur $20 million in fines, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June overturned the rulings of both lower courts.

How did Justice Alito and his brethren justify reversing the decisions of the lower courts that Arizona was violating the Equal Educational Opportunity Act (EEOA) of 1974 by not providing enough money for adequate language instruction?
Because the EEOA focuses on the quality of educational programming and services to students, not the amount of money spent, there is no statutory basis for precluding petitioners from showing that Nogales has achieved EEOA-compliant ELL programming in ways other than through increases incremental funding.
And, the majority argue, the Nogales’ schools are EEOA-compliant because 1) they are using a language-immersion program instead of a bi-lingual program, which research shows is superior; 2) The No Child Left Behind legislation provides adequate accountability and, they suggest, can actually supplant EEOA requirements; 3) the superintendent of Nogales has implemented structural and managerial changes that bring the schools up to snuff; 4) Arizona has increased the state’s general education fund.

In other words, the combination of these four elements are adequate to establish educational equity, enough to provide for adequate output or performance. The amount of money distributed per pupil is irrelevant. In addition, says Alito, the ruling reflects
a growing consensus in education research that increased funding alone does not improve student achievement, [and] NCLB expressly refrains from dictating funding levels. Instead it focuses on the demonstrated progress of students through accountability reforms
(The details about money, by the way, are listed in Appendix B of Justice Breyer’s dissent. Nogales received $4,605 per pupil in 2006-2007, with an extra $639 for ELL funding. “Nogales received less per-pupil funding in 2006 than the average provided by every State in the Nation. New Jersey provided the highest at $14,954.” As far as performance goes (see Appendix A), ELL students in Arizona perform dramatically below non-ELL students on state assessments.)

Breyer’s dissent is virulent in its disdain for the majority’s reasoning that pro forma regulatory changes are interchangeable with the reality of equal opportunity. He points out the poor performance of Nogales students (their high school is rated 575th out of 629 in Arizona) and the state’s failure to provide adequate financial resources. He also takes issue with the majority’s profession that there is a consensus that educational funding is irrelevant to academic performance:
Some believe that “increased funding alone does not improve student achievement, and [the decision] refers to nine studies that suggest that increased funding does not always help. I do not know what this has to do with the matter. But if it is relevant to today’s decision, the Court should also refer to the many studies that cast doubt upon the results of the studies it cites.
Of course, in N.J. we’ve been playing out the same conflict for years through Abbott litigation and now Corzine’s School Funding Reform Act. The Abbott decisions, at least temporarily vacated by the State Supreme Court, sent extra money to poor urban kids based on the assumption that educational deprivation is compensated for by increased funding. The recent School Funding Reform Act, along with curricular reforms, state-wide accountability regulations, and high school redesign, tries to rein in the excesses of Abbot funding by distributing money per pupil, but the assumption remain the same: equalize the input and you’ll equalize the output.

Can we separate funding from performance? Should we try? In response to Justice Alito’s citation of an educational consensus that the two should be separated, Justice Breyer writes, “the relation of a funding plan to improved performance is not an issue for this court to decide through footnote references to the writings of one side of a complex expert debate.” But New Jersey has taken sides for years. How would the Justices rule?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jersey Zeitgeist on Teacher Healthcare Contributions

Here's one week of media commentary on whether teachers should contribute to health insurance costs:

September 14th,
“The employee unions are resistant to changes that might mean contributions to health benefits or other cost-containment efforts, as well as looking at the salary settlements and bringing them into line with the current economic situation,” said Frank Belluscio, spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association.
September 15th, Associated Press:
The heart of most negotiations is benefits. Most teachers don't pay any health premiums. Many school districts say they should start doing so.
September 16th, CentralJersey Editorial:
We frankly find it amazing that any teachers out there still believe they should pay no premiums at all, considering everything going on around them in the private and public sectors, and especially in the heart of a national debate on health care reform fueled by high and rising costs.

This shouldn't be so hard: Of course teachers should contribute to their health premiums.
September 17th, Daily Record Editorial:
Unfortunately, health benefits are extraordinarily expensive, and there comes a time when businesses and local governments — meaning, of course, taxpayers — simply cannot afford to foot the whole bill, no matter how valuable the worker. That time came long ago for most employers. Until some version of health care reform is enacted on the federal level, teachers must continue to give up a part of their Cadillac plans.
September 20th, Trenton Times:
But as admirable as the job of educator may be, the salary increases don't sit right with some taxpayers, who say teachers should have to make greater concessions in the midst of a challenging economic recession
"I understand it's human nature -- if you give me a dollar I want two -- but they've lost touch with reality," said Jerry Cantrell, a former Randolph school board president and head of the New Jersey Taxpayers' Association.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Supreme Court Couples School Spending and Achievement

Alfred Lindseth and Eric Hanushek over at Education Next report on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Horne v. Flores, which overturned court-ordered school spending in Arizona without regard to student outcomes. Why do we care? Because the Court’s logic – that state-ordered increased school spending without tracking student achievement inappropriately intrudes into the power of localities –speaks directly to the decades of Abbott Court decisions and Corzine’s School Funding Reform Act.

According to the Supreme Court, we should be measuring equity through student achievement, not through spending. But in New Jersey we do it the other way around. The check gets written without reference to achievement on the premise that hand over the money and improved performance will follow. But, according to Lindseth and Hanushek, it doesn’t.
(C)ourt orders for substantially increased school funding seldom resulted in improvement in student performance. This was the case in Kentucky, New Jersey, and Wyoming, where billions of dollars of increased funding did not significantly improve student achievement relative to that in other states. Only in Massachusetts, where more fundamental changes in standards, accountability, and other aspects of school policy were incorporated with increased appropriations, did students tend to do significantly better following court intervention.
In other words, it’s pedagogical and curricular reforms that work, not more money. We know this, right? It’s that “duh” moment. Now, the NJ DOE could argue that its efforts at high school reform and standardized curricula across the state meet that benchmark for accountability, but a quick glance at our assessment scores in poor urban areas belies any quantifiable improvement. And the mechanism we’ve used for distributing money – either Abbott or SFRA – is independent of student growth.

So, we’ve been doing it wrong all these years, or at least incompletely. Is someone out there studying Massachusetts?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Measuring Merit in Marlboro

The school board of a well-to-do district in Monmouth County, Marlboro K-8 School District Board of Education, has found their inner Hulk and gone rogue – newspaper ads, web postings -- about a contract dispute with their local teachers’ union, the Marlboro Township Education Association. After the Board and MTEA reached an impasse over salary increases and benefits, they proceeded to a state-appointed Fact-Finder, who just issued his (non-binding) report. In an unusual move, the Board rejected the Fact-Finder’s recommendations, alerted the media, and posted the Fact-Finder’s report on their website.

Here’s the skinny: by the time they got to Fact-Finding, both sides were down to their best offer: MTEA asked for 15% salary increases for teachers over the next three year and no employee contribution to health care premiums, per past practice. The Board proposed 13% salary increases for teachers over three years and contributions to health care premiums: $725 per year for a single employee out of a $9,180 package and $950 per year for a family out of a $21,596 package.

The Fact-Finder took 63 pages to rule that salaries for MTEA should be increased by 12.66% over three years and that there should be no employee premium contributions, reasoning,
As more districts face negotiations in the current economic climate, settlement rates may well moderate somewhat. While I anticipate smaller increases, there is no indication of a dramatic drop off. In fact, NJSBA numbers showed a slight retrenchment from the 3d to the 4th quarter of ’08, 4.69% to 4.44%.
And on the health premiums: “While the Board argued strongly for an employee contribution, its presentation and documentation did not carry its burden to make such a change out of the mainstream of districts for the State and the County.”

In other words, teacher salaries and benefits are impervious to current economic climate. A pattern of about 4%-5% annual increases and no premium contribution has been operative in N.J,,and external vagaries are irrelevant. The non-teaching world may be different – the fact-finder writes, “(t)he District may point to the private sector where contributions may be more common, but it is not in the private sector” – but that’s like comparing apples and oranges.

The same argument is going on nationally about merit pay. Typically in the private sector, employee compensation is tied to productivity and performance. But in the teaching sector, employee compensation is tied to time served and degrees held, in part because learning and instruction is felt to be unmeasurable by any real metric, somehow mystical or ineffable.

Sure, it’s part of the culture: teachers unions were modeled on industrial unions after a long history of being underpaid and unappreciated and hefty annual increases and free benefits have been intended to help teachers “catch up.” But at what point do annual salary increases out of whack with the private sector become historical artifacts, a kind of affirmative action meant to allay inequities of the past? Are we there yet?

Did Corzine Just Admit that His School Funding Formula is Invalid?

Well, no, not in an ideal world. It’s a great idea – forget about a kid’s zip code, forget about disparities in district wealth and opportunity, and channel the same cost per pupil right to the child’s resident district. Add more for special education needs, economic disadvantages, English Language Learners, and full-day preschools in high-poverty areas. Bingo: equity achieved.

One little problem: we don’t have the cash. During a conference call with community newspaper editors this week, Governor Corzine admitted that N.J.’s ability to increase school funding this year “was possible only because of the federal stimulus package” and he “acknowledged that the future of such funding is uncertain,” according to CentralJersey.

Corzine’s admission is refreshingly honest. He’s right: we can’t afford to sustain our public school system under its current structure. We pay more than anyone else in the country (though we battle New York for the trophy for Miss Profligacy), our graduation rate stinks (once you subtract the kids who graduate with a meaningless certificate because of our very own diploma mill factory, also known as the Special Review Assessment), and our state assessments are dropping (yes, the DOE has raised the cut for passing from 40% to 50%, but still…).

Education reformer ears perk up when they detect Christie’s passion for the expansion of charter schools, but he’s so light on details that it sounds like just another campaign talking point. We know more about his driving record than we know about his educational strategies (besides doing away with preschool funding for impoverished kids, a particularly bone-headed idea). Come on, guys: how about just a dab of substance?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thank God We Don't Live in Pennsylvania

Because of our state's commitment to a thorough and efficient free public education, no child will be turned away from a public school this year because his or her parent lost a job or is struggling to make ends meet.
Barbara Keshishian, new President of NJEA, in a "commentary" posted at New Jersey Newsroom.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How Bad are the Trenton Public Schools?

This bad: last night Superintendent Rodney Lofton gave a preview of this year’s state assessment scores and 68% of third-graders failed both language arts and math.

Part of the drop (last year only 35% of 3d graders failed language arts and 38% failed math) is because the State changed its definition of “proficiency.” For example, last year a 3d grader only needed to get 40% of the questions correct to get a passing grade in language arts and now he or she needs a 50%. For math, proficiency is described as 52% corrrect as opposed to last year’s 42%.

There were a couple of bright spots in Lofton’s report, but they're merely a glint against the gloom. Lofton also alluded to looming state spending cuts and the loss of current stimulus money, which will inevitably lead to programming cuts.

(Total cost per pupil at Trenton Public School District last year: $16,120.)

Where does that leave Trenton parents? They can look to charter schools, which have a mixed record. For example, Emily Fisher Charter School has a wretched record on test scores, though there are still 60 kids on the waiting list. On the other hand, International Charter School (we only have last year’s scores) are entitled to brag about their third grade assessment scores in language arts – only 16% of kids failed in language arts and only 11% failed the math portion. Actually, 16.7% of their third graders achieved “advanced proficiency” in math. There are 49 kids on the waiting list, but don’t hold your breath; total enrollment is 90 kids in grades K-5.

(Total cost per pupil at International Charter School: $13,838)

There's also Trenton Community Charter School. 43.7% of third graders last year failed the language arts portion of the state assessment and 40.8% of them failed math. Pretty grim, yet there are 69 kids on the waiting list.

(Total cost per pupil at Trenton Community Charter School: $11,875)

It’s not all about numbers, either state assessment scores or dollars per pupil. And, certainly, the devil's in the details: how many children in each school are classified as eligible for special education? How many English Language Learners? Regardless, Trenton schoolchildren are trapped in a failing school system, grossly inferior to the average Jersey school. (Statewide, 62% of 3d graders passed language arts and 75% passed math.)

Meanwhile, you can go several miles in every direction and land in a higher-performing district, but our local governance makes those schools inaccessible to Trenton's kids. How did we get back to separate and unequal?

Wasser Goes Off-Line

James Wasser, the embattled school superintendent in Freehold who is personally responsible for legislation and regulations banning bonuses based on degrees from diploma mills, announced his resignation.

Wasser (formerly known as Dr. Wasser) used a doctoral degree from unaccredited online Breyer State University to bump up his salary by $2,500 per year, as did two other school administrators of Freehold Regional High School District. He’ll now serve as “administrator for special projects,” reports the Asbury Park Press, until 2011, presumably the date his contract expires.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Here’s NJEA’s Talking Points

on why union members should vote for Corzine instead of Christie. Among the key issues: Corzine “does not support [merit pay] because it creates a system of winners and losers among the people who educate our children,” and Christie “wants to require all new state employees to contribute to their health insurance costs."” Also, Christie “supports vouchers, which use public tax dollars to subsidize private and religious schools,” while Corzine “opposes vouchers, tuition tax credits, and urban scholarship schemes.”

Interestingly, there’s nary a mention of charter schools. Race To The Top eligibility demands expansion of charters and urban parents in N.J. are lined up on the 11,000 pupil waiting list. Perhaps that's why NJEA finds it difficult to publish Christie’s fiery support and Corzine’s tepid advocacy. (See here.) Instead “Where The Gubernatorial Candidates Stand” limits itself to bluster on voucher “schemes.”

The politics of charter schools puts Corzine in a bind. NJEA, despite the cone of silence imposed on the issue in campaign literature, sees charter schools as a threat to their fundamental platform: life-time tenure and opposition to merit pay. (Here’s a great piece by Matt Yglesias where he argues that merit pay already exists: merit is defined as having advanced degrees. We also define merit as longevity -- salary scales go up for every year of employment -- so it might be helpful for everyone to acknowledge that we already have a system of merit pay -- we're just at odds over what constitutes "merit.") Charter school availability is not so much an issue in New Jersey’s suburban areas (which may decide the election) because the schools tend to be better, but traditional Democratic supporters in urban areas crave alternatives to failing public schools. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported yesterday that Martin Perez, President of the Latino Leadership Alliance, is holding back his endorsement of Corzine (whom he’s endorsed in the past) because of the Governor's lack of support for charter schools and voucher programs in cities.

So Corzine and the Democratic Party in N.J., -- and the leadership of NJEA, or at least the writers of their propaganda -- start looking like advocates for rich white people instead of the urban poor. And Republicans start looking like a reasonable alternative to low-income families, at least in regard to education issues, because they’re, um, pro-choice.

Update: Here's a piece from Alan J. Borsuk of Milwaukee's Journal Sentinel (hat tip to Eduwonk) who asks, in the context of the fight for mayoral control of Milwaukee Public Schools, "What does it mean to be a Democrat when it comes to education?"

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Leftovers

Alan Steinberg argues that Corzine can raise his poll numbers by using his education record as the “positive” piece of his message and relying on NJEA's strength. Some interesting analysis of the teachers’ union:
Perhaps the most important thing to understand regarding the NJEA is that they regard virtually every election as a battle for survival. When evaluating candidates for Governor or the Legislature, there are three positions critical to them: 1) Opposition to school vouchers; 2) Continuance of the current teacher tenure rules; and 3) Guarantee of the promised future pension benefits to teachers.
Art Albrizio, a former school administrator, argues in the Asbury Park Press that the current recession should have no impact on negotiated teacher salary increases because teachers have "been able to maintain productivity and service while operating under a 4 percent budget cap every year during the past 10 to 15 years.”

Rocky Hill and Millstone, two of the non-operating districts that were dissolved this year, are waging a battle to have their districts reinstated since residents didn’t get to vote on the elimination, reports the Trenton Times.

The Press of Atlantic City
juxtaposes the “real world,” where inflation is zero so seniors shouldn’t get COLA increases in their social security checks and casino owners have proposed wage freezes for three years, and the “surreal world,” where teacher salary increases "are hovering, statewide, at 4.5 percent - 4.3 percent for those negotiated since January. This, despite a school budget cap of 4 percent that was set when inflation was much higher than 0 percent and there was no recession."

Parents and Communities United for Education (PCUE), the Jersey City chapter of the Statewide Education Organizing Committee, which advocates for better education in low-income school districts, led a rally in front of School 11 on Tuesday. According to the Jersey City News, more than 450 kids dropped out of Jersey City school last year. An organizer of the rally said,
There's a schoolhouse to jail-house mentality here. We want kids to have the equal opportunity to graduate and go on to college or trade school.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Weinberg's Charter School Dupe

Here’s what L.G. Candidate Loretta Weinberg told NJN during a visit to a Teaneck charter school on Tuesday (link here, about 1:30): “Part of our public school system, and part of what both the Governor Corzine and I believe in, and that is the expansion of charter schools in New Jersey. They are the laboratory for new innovative educational techniques.”

Interesting turn of phrase: “the laboratory for new innovative educational techniques.” Weinberg’s terminology carefully echoes UFT President Albert Shanker’s then-new conception of a public charter school. During a seminal speech in 1988 he proposed that charters act as teacher-led laboratories for new instructional practices that, if successful, would be integrated into traditional public schools. And Shanker’s boxed-in, teacher-controlled, twenty-year-old articulation is what union officials cling to today.

Here’s current NEA President Dennis Van Roekel on charter schools:
There is much to learn from charter school success stories as well as charter school failures. Charter schools have the potential to be incubators of promising educational practices that can be replicated in mainstream schools. The key is to identify what is working that can be sustained and reproduced on a broad scale so that as many students as possible can benefit. We need to create more supportive learning environments for educators and students alike in all of our public schools. This is an essential part of fulfilling NEA’s vision of a great public school for every student.
Weinberg’s echo of union code is an astute move by Corzine because it enables him to both pacify education reformists by appearing to support charter school expansion (and mitigate a principle difference between his educational agenda and Christie’s) and wink at union officials who are hell-bent on limiting charter school growth. Not to worry, says Weinberg/Corzine. We’re keeping charters in that dusty box.

Of course, this obsolete definition conveniently ignores the fact that charter schools no longer define themselves as short-term petri dishes, but as long-term educational models: think KIPP, Green Dot, Harlem Children’s Zone.

Along the same lines, read this piece by Tom Vander Ark in The Huffington Post that explores the public education sector opposition to private investment. (Some of the most interesting charter models are financed privately, at least in part.) He says that “most of this is just disguised job protection, the rest is historical bias,” and calculates that,
If the US Department of Education was able to invest half of i3 in private ventures, it would be multiplied several times over by private investment (10x in some cases), it would fund scalable enterprises with the potential for national impact, and the innovation would be sustained by a business model.
Weinberg’s statement to NJN may sound like a capitulation on Race To The Top priorities and a bold move by Corzine to resist NJEA’s opposition to charter school expansion. Read more closely and it’s merely a validation of decades-old union resistance to educational reform.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

Nationally, the most important event [this summer] was the release of the federal government’s regulations for the “Race to the Top.” Those regulations made clear that the Obama administration has fully aligned itself with the edu-entrepreneurs who favor market-based reforms. As I predicted on this blog, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are now the spear carriers for the GOP's education policies of choice and accountability. An odd development, don’t you think? The Department of Education dangles nearly $5 billion before the states, but only if they agree to remove the caps on charter schools and any restrictions on using student test scores to evaluate teachers.
Diane Ravitch, from the epistolary blog Bridging Differences. Ravitch of late has taken on the role of Chief Teacher Union Apologist, and it's telling that she labels a Democratic president, decried by right-wingers as somewhat left of Lenin, as a "spear carrier" for the GOP.

Why Can’t N.J. School Boards Keep Teacher Annual Increases In Line?

What’s the source of the disconnect between the inexorable rise in teacher salary increases and a grim economy? An editorial in the Asbury Park Press says that teacher unions and local school boards are blameless and the onus is on the State:
Even if school boards wanted to play hardball, their hands are tied by a collective bargaining process that renders them virtually powerless. When school boards and unions are deadlocked in contract talks and mediation fails — as it typically does if the union doesn't get what it wants — it goes to fact-finding, where state-appointed neutral third parties review each sides's arguments and issue recommendations. The problem is there is no statutory requirement for negotiators or fact-finders to take the rate of inflation into account. In practice, they look at two primary factors: the school district's ability to pay and comparisons to what other districts have been getting
That’s true. When district and local union are at an impasse, they hire a succession of state-appointed mediators. Each one makes a recommendation for a compromise, based on local settlements. Each recommendation is non-binding, and if either side decides not to accept the recommendation then the next mediator is brought in, all the way to something called “Super Reconciliation.” (Sounds powerful, but it’s also non-binding. After that comes teacher strikes, though they're illegal. The cost of all the mediation, by the way, is split between the union and the school board, which means that it’s borne by taxpayers.)

It’s an endless loop: from statutes written by union-beholden legislators that push recommendations based on local settlements, to contract settlements that are unaffected by economic reality. The Press suggests at the end of the piece
Clearly, the negotiating process is rigged in favor of the teachers. Nothing will change unless the rules governing fact-finding are amended to require that cost of living be a major determining factor in negotiated salaries. The Legislature also should put an end to the foolish waste of time and money of having nearly 500 individual school districts negotiate their contracts. Bargaining of most items should be handled at the county level.
Would that it were so simple to extract ourselves from the matrix! Rules governing fact-finding are subject to the loyalties of legislators; the 500 separate individual bargaining exercises – “foolish” hardly covers it – are unlikely to be modified due to contractual protections; county level bargaining is far more efficient, but unlikely given N.J.’s infatuation with local control.

Right now we're stuck in a bargaining loop that remains independent of meaningful context.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

NJEA Quote of the Day

When the private sector economy is booming, our members go along with very modest raises. In difficult times, nobody's asking teachers to do less work. We don't think it should fall on the backs of teachers and school employees to bear the whole burden of this recession.
NJEA spokesman Steven Baker, in defense of newly-negotiated annual salary increases of 4.5%-4.6%. (Star-Ledger)

Corzine's Alternate Universe

Jon Corzine’s “commentary” on education posted on New Jersey Newsroom is most notable for what he leaves out than for what he includes. About half the piece is devoted to preschool expansion. There’s a defense of the new School Funding Reform Act and a bit about capping college tuition increases.

Yet not a single mention of charter schools. Not a single allusion to reforming teacher compensation. It’s as if the national debate on education reform exists in some alternative universe, with Corzine playing the part of the impossibly optimistic Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide, blithely espousing that this N.J. world “is the best of all possible worlds.”

Corzine: "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."

Uh, not really. Ask any N.J. school board member who spent the spring overseeing budget cuts to square the mid-year cut in state aid and then the “deferral” of another mandated state aid payment.

Corzine: "We have worked relentlessly to make sure the dollars being sent to local school districts are not being wasted. Accountability rules and regulations have been adopted by the state Department of Education to make sure there are no abuses."

Yes, the DOE issued hundreds of pages of regulations last year, some so ridden with errors and inconsistencies that it requested that School Business Administrators submit lists of errata to help them clean up the mess.

Corzine: "We have the nation's best high school graduation rate. More than 82 percent of New Jersey high school students graduate in four years compared to the national average of 69 percent."

Right. That’s because we are the only state in the country that gives kids who fail the standard high school assessment another test called the Special Review Assessment. No one fails the SRA. If we just counted the kids who pass the standard test, our graduation rate would be 24th in the country.

Corzine: "We are beginning to close the achievement gap for minority and low-income students."

New Jersey has the most segregated school system in the country.

You get the idea. Yes, it’s campaign season. But in the midst of a national debate on education reform, Corzine is either wasting the opportunity to join the conversation, completely out of sync with federal Race To The Top priorities, or so cowed by the teachers’ union that he’s hoping no one will notice his lack of engagement. Here's an irony: Republican Christie and Independent Daggett have more in common with Obama's educational agenda at this point than our Panglossian incumbent.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday Leftovers

"Governor Corzine is an accountability freak!" says Ed Commish Lucille Davy in the latest issue of New Jersey Family when queried about school spending.

Today’s Star-Ledger
features Newark Superintendent Clifford Janey’s efforts to transform the troubled school system. As he starts his second year at the helm, new initiatives include a school uniform requirement, higher GPA cut-offs for athletic participation, replacing ¼ of the system’s principals, taking a tougher stance with inadequate teaching, and increasing academic expectations for students.

N.J. silliness about whether to let kids listen to President Obama telling them to work hard in school.

Arianna Huffington thinks out of the box in "So We Can't Have Single Payer for Health Care, But How About Single Payer for Education?": "In a single-payer education plan, the federal government, in conjunction with the states, would provide an education allotment for every parent of a K-12 child. Parents would then be free to enroll their child in the school of their choice."

Diane D'Amico of Press of Atlantic City analyzes school district legal costs.

Teach For American has placed 95 instructors at schools in Newark and Passaic, reports the Star-Ledger. Michael Larson, development director for the Newark TFA office, said “about 60 percent of the program's participants continue with careers in teaching and education.”

James Ahearn of The Record
comments on Corzine’s plan to have all N.J. students pass college prep courses: "I think that’s unrealistic. The fact is that some kids are smarter than others. Some have supportive families and some don’t. Some thrive in Advanced Placement classes and some struggle in areas where studying is scorned as 'acting white.'”

Negotiated teacher annual raises in South Jersey are coming in at about 4.5%, reports the Press of Atlantic City.

Dysfunctional School Board of the Week Award goes to Easton Area School Board, where President Patricia Fisher asked V.P. Pat Vulcano to stay home from a public meeting because he supports the striking secretaries’ union. (Lehigh Valley Live.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Corzine's Doin' the Charter School Bop

Governor Corzine is fighting the perception that his Administration is unwelcoming to charter school expansion. According to New Jersey Newsroom, Corzine visited Community Charter School in Patterson and announced that in 2006 the number of charter schools in N.J. increased by 34% while student enrollment grew by 55%. His declared allegiance to the movement, in fact, is such that he will now expedite the process of approval from 18 months to 11 months.

Clearly he's feeling some heat from Chris Christie's steady beat of the charter school tom-tom, plus the perception that he's been cowed into obeisance by NJEA's anti-charter stance. In addition, Race To The Top funds are contingent on charter school expansion, or at least elimination of road blocks. Can Corzine have it both ways? Well, it won't be for lack of trying. He tried a few tentative drum beats in Paterson:
I am proud of the work that is occurring at charter schools in New Jersey, as well as the work on-going in many of our traditional public schools.
Back in 1996,, the N.J. Assembly passed charter school legislation that allowed for the establishment of 135 new charters. Twelve years later we've got 68, with less than 1% of N.J.'s 1.3 million kids enrolled and at least 11,000 on waiting lists. Expediting the process is helpful (although the DOE can't keep up with its current workload). Has Corzine had a death-election conversion?

Well, maybe the number of charter school is down to 67. According to the Courier-Post, Freedom Academy Charter School in Camden has just been ordered by the DOE to pay $415,938 because it neglected to properly advertise for vendors, though the vendors had been approved by the state. Now, there's been a history of problems with paperwork, much of it linked to former administrator James Esposito, who retired last October. But a fine of half of a million dollars is a deathknell for a charter school, especially since state law allots only 90% of the cost per pupil (the local district keeps the rest) and gives no financial assistance for facilities. Was there a way to keep those kids in a stable environment without sending them back to the morass that's known as the Camden Public School District? How can Corzine square his charter school hip-hop yesterday in Paterson with the dirge of Freedom Academy Charter School?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

NJEA Members Refuse to Say "Baa"

Politico has a piece on the role of organized labor in the gubernatorial races in Virginia and N.J. In spite of traditional union support for Democratic candidates in N.J., Patrick Murray, Director of Monmouth University Polling Institute, says,
There’s not a lot of enthusiasm among core Democratic groups for Jon Corzine. These union groups need to move to get their members into line.
Politico explains, “in New Jersey, so far, labor leaders have found that the problem isn’t simply a matter of persuading the general electorate that Corzine deserves a second term — they have to convince their own membership, as well.”

In the education sector in N.J., this means that even though the leadership of the NJEA robustly endorsed Corzine, a significant number of members, traditionally reliable card-carrying Democrats, are holding back from declaring allegiance.

Education reform in N.J. is producing strange bedfellows. For example, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising star of the Democratic Party, has an education agenda that strongly resembles Chris Christie’s emphasis on school choice in poor urban neighborhoods and the expansion of charter schools. In contrast, Corzine tiptoes near charter expansion with a mask and gloves like he’s scared of catching swine flu, so wary is he of alienating the NJEA leadership. But polls show that teachers are not behaving like sheep, not amenable to being shoved “into line.”

How much clout does the NJEA have with its members anyway? Traditionally lots – no question. But with a Democratic president pushing education reforms that are counter to union goals, and with a wildly popular mayor like Booker, for example, aligning himself – at least on education reform -- with a Republican challenger, it's worth wondering whether historically alliances are weakening.

Has education reform gone post-partisan?

Should Teacher Salaries Be Recession-Proof?

That’s the argument made today in The Record by the Ringwood Education Association and the Ringwood Board of Education to justify the newly-announced contract: annual increases for Ringwood teachers from 2009-2013 will be 4.4%, 4.45%, and 4.5%, with no contributions to medical benefits.

Perhaps anticipating a little blowback from the community, the two sides had their stories straight. Board member Janet Citranglo said, "I understand that in this economy many people in the private sector are getting less in raises. But when times are good, private industry also gives out much more than four percent."

And a teacher said, “we never get out of the 4’s, no matter how strong the economy is.”

Okay. Teachers deserve fair increases. But is a steady 4+% annual increase justified because private industry increases ebb and flow with the economy? Not according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data shows that annual increases in the private sector this year were 1.5%. And, while that’s assuredly a low number, the private industry average from 2001 - 2008 averaged 4.5%. In other words, healthier years do yield healthier increases in non-teaching professions. But when you average out private industry salaries, teachers still come out ahead. (And we're not going near health benefit non-contributions.)

The Ringwood settlement may be perfectly fair. And every indication is that both the Ringwood union reps and the teachers believe their own spin. But it's much of a kind with the way we award teacher proficiency: more money for time served, regardless of performance. The Ringwood settlement -- same increase for salaries, regardless of the economy -- is a similar kind of lock-step vision of the teaching profession. Can we get over that already?

Not yet.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Christie Puts His Weight Behind Charter Schools

Chris Christie is touting his promised reforms to NJ’s public education system (press release here; New Jersey Newsroom story here), which center on increasing commitments to charter schools. He’ll do this by choosing an education commissioner to advocate for charter approvals, by facilitating funding streams when a kid leaves a failing school to attend a charter, and by eliminating “undue school board influence over charter school applications in failing districts.”

Sounds good, but it’s unclear what he means by “undue school board influence.” Right now, new applications get screened by the DOE and local districts can forward "recommendations." Invariably, of course, those recommendations will be “deny! deny!” After all, why would a traditional public school want to divert 90% of the per pupil cost (is the withheld 10% for paperwork or something?) to the upstart charter. But the DOE guidelines are clear: “The Commissioner will approve or deny an application for a charter.”

Trust me here: school boards don’t have much undue influence, let alone due influence. Impediments to the charter school movement in N.J. reside in higher echelons, like the Legislature, the NJEA leadership, and the DOE.

On N.J. Public Education: “We're spending enough to buy a Lincoln Town Car, but we're actually getting a Ford Taurus.”

That's Gregg Edwards, President of Center for Policy Research of New Jersey, editorializing on a 2004 analysis from the Manhattan Institute called “The Teachability Index: Can Disadvantaged Students Learn?" The study analyzed student demographics and cost-per-pupil across the country. The results, in a nutshell, are that out of the 48 states evaluated, N.J. ranks 46th in efficiency. Edwards’ point is that our inefficiency is not the fault of the high-poverty urban Abbott districts, but is tied directly to overspending in suburban districts.

So, why do we overspend in suburban districts? Easy – our addiction to local control. In today’s Courier Post there’s a piece on Chesilhurst, a tiny borough in Camden County with 493 households. Lucille Davy just upheld a decision to deny an appeal from the borough to stop the DOE from shutting down Shirley B. Foster Elementary School, which educates a grand total of 104 kids. DOE regulations mandate that non-operating school districts can be consolidated without a vote from taxpayers. Chesilhurst thought the presence of an active albeit tiny school would keep it off the list. But instead it becomes the 26th of non-ops eliminated by the State.

Chesilhurst residents seem mighty unhappy because the consolidation comes with a price tag of $18,000 per kid. On the other hand, the total cost per pupil in Shirley Foster Elementary, according to DOE data, was $16,865 last year. So the anger is over the loss of local control and, perhaps, some hard feelings over past discrimination. From the Courier Post:
Some of the borough's 1,900 residents, the majority of whom are black, feel strongly that the school should remain open because they recall their children being treated inferiorly when they attended mostly white Hammonton schools for nearly 40 years.
What's a thousand bucks here or there? Seriously, we can complain all we want about profligacy in our public schools, but it’s not worth the whine unless we man up and sacrifice local control for efficiency.