Education Reform: For Profit, Not For Progress

(Teacher/candidate Marie Corfield spells it all out: – promoted by Jersey Jazzman)

Before the end of the year Governor Christie wants the legislature to pass the remainder of his property tax ‘tool kit’ including his education ‘reform’ agenda. And the fate of one of the nation’s best public education systems and thousands of its students hang in the balance.

Out of over twenty four hundred schools in this state, about two hundred are not doing a good enough job educating their students. These schools are mostly in the former Abbott districts, some of the poorest cities in this country, where the Black unemployment rate is almost double the state average, and one in five children live in poverty.

The governor and Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf, along with their education advisors, Better Education for Kids (B4K) and Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), do not address this almost criminal disparity of wealth despite the fact that one of the DOE's earlier Abbott district reports cites poverty as a major roadblock to student achievement:

 

“Low-income families face many problems related to poverty, e.g., substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and parenthood, inadequate housing, violence and crime. ‘All of these conditions, well-documented in the research literature, place children at greater risk of school failure and increase the likelihood that they will drop out of school further limiting their opportunities for future success (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1993).’”

The Census Bureau concurs:

“Children who live in poverty are more likely than their peers to have cognitive and behavioral difficulties, to complete fewer years of education and to experience more years of unemployment as they grow older.”

Instead, our governor wants to invest our tax dollars in for-profit charter schools, and offer tax breaks to corporations to fund vouchers.

The FDA would never approve a drug that has failed every clinical trial, and yet that is exactly what is happening all across the country. Decades of research have shown that not only do the for-profit, corporate models being forced on school districts from coast to coast not work, they present a separate and unequal solution, and offer huge profits for investors. Mostly poor, minority cities such as Milwaukee,Cleveland and New Orleans have all seen their charter school and/or voucher experiments post mediocre gains at best. Taxpayers have no say in the process, yet must foot the bill. Big promises, little results, while students are collateral damage. Two major studies of charter schools conducted within the past two years and sponsored in part by billionaire education ‘reformers’ Bill Gates and The Walton Foundation, have shown that the majority of charters perform no better than traditional public schools; some do better; many are worse. Yet Christie is so steadfast in his belief that charters are the magic bullet that every one of his appointees to the state board of education has ties to them.

Every district in this state from Mendham to Camden has felt the devastating effects of Christie’s school funding cuts, while property taxes soared last year. Feeling the heat from suburban school boards and municipalities, Christie and Cerf have both said they should leave the better performing districts alone—for now. The voices of wealthy suburbanites paying five digit property tax bills for their excellent public schools get pretty loud when services are slashed. But the poor districts don’t have that kind of clout, and will now become the laboratory rats in New Jersey’s grand educational experiment.

How are the needs of our most vulnerable students met in schools that can skim the best from the top? That don’t have to provide services for special education or ESL students? That can expel students who may be discipline problems? That don’t have the same financial and academic accountability as public schools? Whose principals can earn as much as the superintendent of a large school district? That decimate local public schools by siphoning up to 90% of the per-pupil cost of each student they enroll? The revamping of the former Abbott districts is just the start. Christie and Cerf want to expand charter schools and vouchers throughout the state, whether taxpayers want them or not. Unwanted charters are already showing up in places like Cherry Hill, New Brunswick and Teaneck.

Because of the huge wealth disparity between our suburban and urban districts, New Jersey ranks near the bottom in the Black-White achievement gap. The irony is that the research based programs recommended for Abbott districts by the DOE itself including half day preschool and full day kindergarten, smaller class sizes, and increased professional development were working: New Jersey is first in the nation in closing that gap.

Under the NCLB waiver reforms, 23 public schools in Camden alone could close if their test scores don’t improve. Can our governor and his advisors deliver on 23 new schools in time to assure those children get a quality education? If not, how will they address the massive overcrowding in the other public schools that will surely result? What happens if the charter/voucher schools fail to deliver? Who will be blamed? Who will take responsibilty? Who will suffer?

Will Newark become the next Milwaukee? Will Camden become the next New Orleans? Will Trenton become the next Cleveland? New Jersey taxpayers have no say.

Whatever reforms are implemented must have a history of success, must address the issues inherent in poverty and must be inclusive of every stakeholder, including parents and children. Anything less is putting profits before progress.

 

Comments (7)

  1. the pollster

    “The FDA would never approve a drug that has failed every clinical trial, and yet that is exactly what is happening all across the country.”

    This is the key. No proof exists that charters or vouchers do better than public schools. Yet we are being sold a rosy package of privatization that will end in disaster for our kids (but fat profits for the privatizers).

    Thanks, Marie!

    Reply
  2. William Weber (WjcW)

    as non profits? Then you would be in favor?

    Also, doesn’t student enrollment in charter schools INCREASE per-pupil aid in public schools.

    The student leaves, but has to leave 10% of his aid behind for the other students, a net benefit to those other students, no?

    Following your logic, the largest disctricts would be the most successful, and clearly, that’s not the case.

    How are the needs of our most vulnerable students met in schools that can skim the best from the top?

    Isn’t this exactly what magnet schools do? Are you against those?

    And isn’t true the charters have to take all comers via lottery?

    Reply
  3. Momotombo

    While current law requires that the sending district pay a charter school 90% of the per pupil cost, that remaining 10% most certainly does not result in an increase per pupil total.  When 35 children are pulled from 4 grades at 8 elementary schools across a district to go to a charter, no single grade or elementary school has any substantive savings.  Facility costs are the same, transportation costs remain the same (and remember, districts also pay for transporting the charter schools students), basic staffing costs remain the same, material costs are diminished an insignificant amount.  

    In some instances we see, due to overall budget cuts, a reduction classroom teachers which results in increase class size, but these are not ‘savings’ – these are cuts at a cost to optimal class sizes.  

    District after district asked to pay 90% can show you that they are paying out far more than they are saving and the result is bad for the schools and the students.  

    Reply
  4. Bertin Lefkovic

    …is not entirely based on the number of students being served and economies of scale arguments do not work within school buildings, because the only way that they would is to have larger class sizes, which is not optimal for educational purposes.  

    Economies of scale arguments can work when you talk about consolidating local school districts into county school districts or enabling the state DOE to negotiate personnel and purchasing contracts for the entire state, especially when you consider the savings that could be reaped as a result of our state’s population density.

    The charter school funding formula is fatally flawed.  Instead of a 90/10 split, there should be a 50/25/25 split with the federal DOE providing loans up to the amount of the state’s contribution that would have to be repaid by June 30 in order for the charter school in question to be allowed to reopen the following year.  These loans would be repaid with tax-creditable private contributions.  

    The district would retain 25% of its per-student state funding and the remaining 25% would be retained by the state DOE to fund cooperative programming between the charter and the district.  I think that this formula would serve everyone far better.

    Reply
  5. Bertin Lefkovic

    …as long as both public charter schools and traditional public schools are being evaluated by standardized tests, which are fatally flawed, any effort to compare their performance is going to be fatally flawed.

    This is where charter school advocates miss a golden opportunity to be the forces for innovation that they could be by defending their mediocre test scores with a very simple defense.  Traditional public schools have been teaching to the test for generations, so even failing schools are going to score better than their actual educational quality level, while charter schools do not teach to the test and as a result will most likely underperform on tests.

    Charter school advocates should stand up for both public charter schools and traditional public schools by calling for an end to standardized testing and demanding a major investment in observational evaluative methodologies.  Unfortunately, they don’t and they probably won’t, because far too many of them are part of the for-profit, corporate school machine, whose investors are probably as invested in the standardized testing industry.

    Reply

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