If you read my blog last week, I spent some time talking to myself as I read through the Education Transformation Task Force’s Initial Report. Yes, last week I was very supportive of some of its recommendations, and I still am. But two little things have kept me talking to myself about the report.
One that gnawed at me was when the report emphasized the achievement gap and used it as a reason to accept the task force’s report. As I stated earlier, I agree with many of the recommendations, and I believe that the achievement gap is a national problem that we cannot ignore. That being said, the report seems to give the impression that the achievement gap is solely the responsibility of the education community and that there are no other factors that affect student achievement other than what transpires inside the school building. We all know that one of the greatest indicators of student achievement has nothing to do with teachers or the curriculum. It has to do with the student’s economic situation. There is a clear link between poverty and academic achievement. Yes, this link is intractable and persistent but ignoring it does not make it go away.
The task force may believe that school districts cannot control the economic circumstances of their students. However, schools still need to put forth every effort to see that all students achieve, no matter their background. While poverty is a factor, we cannot accept it as an excuse.
I agree with that belief. We all know that a good education can provide a way out of poverty for students, and poor students need a good education more than anyone. But it is also a stubborn truth that a student’s poverty is an educational handicap, and as a society we have not found an easy way to overcome this handicap and should not give an illusion that a simple change here or there is the magic pill.
The other issue that got me to talking to myself had to do with the state take-over districts. The task force, in its argument to reduce the paperwork and to reform NJQSAC, gave an example of the Paterson school district. The task force noted that Paterson scored an 88 percent in governance on NJQSAC, which would suggest that they are well-run, while their student test scores do not suggest that.
I am not going to argue over whether a good NJQSAC score translates into better academic achievement, which is what we would hope would be the case of any monitoring system. That is questionable and the Task Force obviously thinks there is no correlation.
No, the issue I see is this: who really runs the three state takeover districts? It seems that the state is critical of the academic achievement of the district’s students under the current local advisory board and the school administration, and so the state is rather hesitant to let these districts exercise local control. However, the State of New Jersey is the final authority in these districts and is fully responsible for their test scores. After all, the state has been in control in these districts for some time now (20 years in Paterson). So who owns the academic achievement: the State of New Jersey or the Advisory Board, which has no authority in areas of school finance and personnel?
It would seem to me that the state has to take some responsibility since it is the final authority. I should note that this administration has been in charge for less than two years so it would be difficult for them to show great improvement so quickly. (Although perhaps one of the problems is that in 20 years, there have been numerous administrations all with different philosophies about urban education.)
If the NJQSAC monitoring system is supposed to rate the leadership and governance in school districts, who is it rating in the takeover districts? Is it the district administration, the advisory board, or the state? I understand that NJQSAC was designed to help gradually release the state from running the districts of Paterson and Newark Maybe that is because through the years it is hard to make the argument that state control has proved to be significantly better (some might argue that it has not proved to be any better) than local control.