How About an Interdistrict Teacher Choice Program?

The Senate Assembly Education Committee was told yesterday afternoon that we can improve our failing urban schools by pairing successful, experienced teachers with struggling students, according to an A.P. story in today’s Record, and “insisting that high academic standards be met.” An expert brought in by the Committee, C. Kent McGuire of Temple University, said that “that up to 70 percent of urban middle schoolers are being taught math by teachers who are not certified in that subject.”

Problem: Most of our “more experienced teachers” don’t teach in Camden or Trenton. They teach in Moorestown (in a county adjacent to Camden’s) or Montgomery (in a county adjacent to Trenton’s).

Solution: Find a teachable moment in our blossoming-yet-still-pilot Interdistrict School Choice Program, which was cleared yesterday by the Assembly Education Committee to go permanent if that is the Legislature’s wont. The program permits small numbers of children stuck in chronically failing schools to cross district lines to attend another, better school. (See our posts here and here.) Now for the cool part: create an Interdistrict Teacher Choice Program. This would permit small numbers of teachers stuck in chronically successful schools to cross district lines to another, worse school that really needs their expertise and experience. Of course, said teachers would receive salary increases for their commitment to educating all children and the inconvenience of a longer commute.

Yes, yes. It would be a mess with separate district bargaining agreements. But wouldn’t that be an opportunity to chip away at the monolithic district barriers that render our public school system the most segregated in the country? Let the kids move to a higher performing district so that they have a shot at meaningful academic achievement. And let our teachers move (with cash incentives) to lower-performing districts so that we can avail ourselves of all the research out there that says that experienced, certified teachers make more of a difference with students than inexperienced, uncertified ones.

First Note: at the Assembly meeting yesterday, Committee Chair Joe Cryan pointed out that in our poorest urban districts “[w]hile charter schools often are successful, about a quarter fail.” We’d invite Assemblyman Cryan to take a gander at the success rate of traditional public schools in our poorest urban districts. DOE data shows that far more than “about a quarter fail.”

Second Note: Is the reference to “high academic standards” a dig at the Special Review Assessment, often used as a back-door way for kids to receive N.J. high school diplomas even when they fail the 11th grade standardized test three times? For example, at Woodrow Wilson High in Camden City, a scant 10.6% of students received diplomas by passing the HSPA, while 62.8% used the SRA. In other words, fewer than 11% of graduates were able to pass what Ed Commissioner Lucille Davy has called a “middle school level test.” Would a higher proportion of these kids succeeded if they had more experienced teachers? The research (and the testimony to the Education Committee yesterday) says “yes.”

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