NJEA: Our Urban Schools Are Great

Interesting poll out from Quinnipiac University, and then either a lightening-fast response or a coincidentally-apropos column from the execs at NJEA. First, the survey, which shows that two-thirds of N.J. voters want to link teacher pay to performance and weaken tenure laws, and the same percentage expect Gov. Christie to mitigate the power of NJEA. Almost half of voters, 48%, think that teacher unions are a bad influence on public education, while 39% disagree. Here’s Poll Director Maurice Carroll in Politicker NJ:
Maybe it was the campaign rhetoric. Maybe it’s the (Bret) Schundler appointment. Whatever, New Jerseyans expect Christie to get tough with a long-time sacred cow, the teachers union. The teachers’ unions get bad marks. Almost half say they’re a negative influence.
The data on views of charter school is mixed. A majority of voters oppose expansion – 52% to 40% -- but the devil’s in the details. Opposition is stronger in households with union members and children who attend public schools. However, urban households support charter schools by 53%-43% and Black voters support expansion by 52%-43%.

That’s unsurprising. New Jersey’s worst schools are in urban areas populated by minorities, so it makes perfect sense that these residents are clamoring for better opportunities for their children. (It also would be worthwhile to know whether the survey questions on charter schools ascertained interviewees’ understanding of charter schools, since many areas of N.J., especially wealthier ‘burbs, lack a single one.)

The survey came out Tuesday. Today NJEA President Barbara Keshishian issued a letter extolling N.J.’s “outstanding resources,” “strong economic base,” “knowledge-based industries,” and “public schools” which “are the best in the nation.” She continues,
Our success extends to our urban schools, frequent targets of criticism from those who may not be aware of the good things now happening there. In July, the Christian Science Monitor called New Jersey “a bright spot” for being one of just three states to significantly narrow the black-white achievement gap in both reading and math at the fourth-grade level.
In other words, if people were more “aware” they would regard our urban schools as models of scholarship. Is that insulting or funny?

Keshishian might want to talk to the Camden School Board, who unanimously approved its Race To The Top MOU last week even though an award could lead to the closing of 8 schools, yet will most likely lose a potentially large award because the leadership of NJEA refused to sign. Or, better yet, talk to parents with children who are stuck in one of those "bright spots" for narrowing the achievement gap in 4th grade. At Cramer Elementary School in Camden 71.1% of 4th graders failed the NJ ASK language arts test, 73.6% of 4th graders failed the NJ ASK math test, and 79.1% of 4th graders failed the NJ ASK science test. (DOE data here.) “Good things happening there”? Not for the families relegated to this failing school, or the taxpayers, who foot the bill there of $15,407 per student per year.

Some problems can be spun away by skillful marketing. Urban education in N.J. isn’t one of them. Keshishian and her buddies at NJEA need to stop spinning their wheels and start acknowledging, along with the majority of interviewees, that we’re failing our poor urban kids.

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