Bruce Baker at Rutgers (and fellow blogger at School Finance 101) takes umbrage at my piece today in NJ Spotlight: the argument that our chronically failing districts could benefit from school choice, better teachers, and accountability, he says, is “ill-conceived,” “offensive,” “deeply distorted,” “dreadfully oversimplified,” “bombastic,” “misguided.” Plus it’s “reformy.” Ouch.

But he brings up two important points (that I’d post as a comment on his blog but can’t since he’s eliminated the comment section. Put it back, Bruce!). First, he writes:
this editorial argues these [that wealthy successful] districts should band together… should coalesce, to RAM DESTRUCTIVE, ILL-CONCEIVED POLICIES DOWN THE THROATS OF THEIR POOR URBAN NEIGHBORS. That’ll fix ‘em! And without comparable adverse effects on their own districts! [Emphases his own.]
What I actually said was, “Surely school leaders, legislators, New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) executives and the DOE can coalesce around" various kinds of education reform. And I meant school leaders in wealthy, middle-class, and impoverished districts. This is important: NJ education discussions are often as segregated as our districts, as provincial as our home ruled culture. Who cares what happens in Camden if you live in Saddle River?

Sometimes it seems that our investment in community ends at the township line. Bruce falls into that trap by assuming that “school leaders” refers to one cohort (the rich one) of districts, not school leaders as a united group dedicated to providing an effective educational system to all NJ’s kids.

No doubt I could have been clearer.

Secondly, I was by no means suggesting that expansion of charter schools, merit pay, and teacher accountability would cure all that ails us. Here’s Bruce:
The present NJ Spotlight argument begins with a deeply distorted, selective “factiness” about the failures of New Jersey’s urban districts (some of the nation’s worst! evidence?) and reasons for them (not enough charters, and no merit pay for teachers) and then jumps quickly to the most extreme and dreadfully oversimplified representation of the solutions (solutions, mind you, that may be far worse than the “disease”) to all of our – excuse me – their problems.
It’s an old argument. There is no perfect value-added method of teacher valuation; therefore, all value-added teacher evaluation is worthless. (For a more nuanced view, see this great report from The New Teacher Project, “Teacher Evaluation 2.0.”) The success record for charter schools is mixed; therefore, expansion of charters is otiose. (See this report from Jay P. Greene: “Measuring test score improvements in eleven states over a one-year period, this study finds that charter schools serving the general student population outperformed nearby regular public schools on math tests by 0.08 standard deviations, equivalent to a benefit of 3 percentile points for a student starting at the 50th percentile.”)

The point isn’t whether there is a perfect solution out there. Newsflash: there’s not. The point is that across America there’s a growing recognition that our public education system needs to change. (Heck: even Randi Weingarten, President of The American Federation of Teachers, supports Race To The Top.) Teacher evaluations will include value-added data. School choice will expand. Teacher unions will eventually move past industrial labor models and treat members like professionals. Pay will be differentiated. Technology will transform classrooms.

Defending the status quo from misguided reformy types may be fun, but it's sort of like arguing that our agrarian school calendar, holidays coinciding with harvesting time, is relevant to the 21st century, or that the only useful model for education is one teacher in front of a desk-lined room of 25 kids.

Truly, Bruce, I respect your work. But do you really think that the NJ's traditional educational system is working well for kids in Camden, Newark, and Trenton? If not, what should we do now?