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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I is learning

Makes me think and laugh
I have not wanted to post a new blog this week because I’ve been too overwhelmed by the events in the world around me.  I felt the need to let things settle down a bit before I chose to be reflective, as is my wont.  Initially my dismay was local in nature but after this weekend the events in Arizona make the local crisis pale in comparison. It is just a very sad, senseless tragedy. I cannot possibly be as eloquent as John Stewart was on Monday evening’s broadcast so I direct my readers to his website to see for themselves. (As an added bonus, stay tuned for his interview with the wonderful Denis Leary.)

Makes me laugh and think

For those of you who reside beyond the parameters of Montclair New Jersey, this is perhaps not of immediate interest but I ask you to read on and have faith. This is about all of us and our future. My fellow townies may be as dismayed as I by the proposed (dare I utter it) closing of two schools in our district due to very real budget constraints.  The estimated shortfall in our town is in the $6 million range. The problem locally is compounded by problems in the state and our newly elected Governor Chris Christie. 

Before you stop reading here because you assume that left-of-center I will embark on a tirade lambasting Christie's policies, his politics, his vacation in Disneyworld, you may be surprised by my more measured and hopefully thoughtful response. Governor Christie has inherited the mess that is public education in New Jersey.

I would first say that I am greatly dismayed by the tone of the conversation this debate about public education has taken both locally and nationally. Civility please. But somehow it seems to be OK for the general population to be treated and spoken to as if we were ignoramuses, incapable of understanding the complexities of bureaucracies, the complexities of education. We are spoken to as though we will naively accept sound bites as panaceas to problems in public education that have existed for decades and require innovation, leadership, scholarship and an exposure to public scrutiny unparalleled in public education’s history.
                                                                                                             That is a big part of the problem. Most people, who work in the education world are unprepared for, even offended by those who dare to encroach on their playing field. Many believe the public cannot possibly understand what life in a classroom means. I understand their dismay. Those who are on the front line, the classroom teachers in particular, are being treated just like the poor and middle classes are being treated by our new Congress. They are being made powerless again. They are being held accountable for failures that begin at home, in a bloated, outmoded system they didn't create.                                                

One need look no further than the disastrous No Child Left Behind legislation, created with NOT one classroom teacher on the advisory committee.  This legislation written by a crew of Bush cronies in the Educational Publishing world wastes millions of taxpayer’s dollars every single year. There is no national standard or oversight. AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) is measured differently in each state.  An eighth grader in Texas performing at an advanced proficiency level in Language Arts is not performing at the same level as an advanced student in New Jersey; which has one of the most difficult tests. So what are we actually measuring? Is anyone paying attention?  How can we possibly suggest that this is somehow a measure of a classroom teacher’s performance?

Education is our Future, writ large.
Why should we have less than the best?

There’s also another way to look at this situation in the muddled state of New Jersey.  First let’s talk about the way the state public education is structured in this state. New Jersey is ranked 9th in population with, according to the 2010 Census, 8.4 million residents.  The 10th ranked state and closest to New Jersey’s count is Georgia with 8.2 million residents. Now consider this fact. The state of New Jersey has 601 School Districts, each with it’s own superintendent earning at least $125, 000 a year plus benefits. Our own earns over $200,000. Districts are basically towns so while Newark has a superintendent overseeing 39,440 public school students, a town like Essex Fells also has one with less than 1200 students, which is less than the number of student’s in Montclair High School. That represents $75,000,000 a year in salaries alone for just the superintendents. Georgia, with a slightly lower population, has 182 districts or about $23,000,000 in salaries to perform the same job that is done in New Jersey. Does it make sense that we spend at least $50,000,000 more for a overseeing comparable number of students?
                                                                                                                Yet the discussion locally as well as in the news about the state is the focused on the pension and salaries of teachers.  I understand that Christie recently fired 7 county superintendents, another layer on top of the district superintendents and that seems like a smart move to me. That decision represented another estimated $1,000,000 in salaries alone per year paid by taxpayers in New Jersey.
                                                                                                             We don’t need more layers; we need the best teachers in our classrooms being lead by the very best principals with smart and innovative superintendents. But do we really need three times as many Superintendents in this state as Georgia?
                                                                                                            The cost of public education does need to come down, property taxes are ridiculous in this state, but shouldn’t we be having conversations about the structure of the system in this state? If sacrifices and cuts are to be made, shouldn’t we examine the whole system from top to bottom?  I’m not singling anyone out in this. I’m not suggesting that Superintendents aren’t needed -- but at $50 MILLION dollars more per year than Georgia?  Really?

1 comment:

  1. Updated news....
    Education Week just published "Weighing States' School Performance"
    which graded each state's performance. From the website "These grades incorporate the most recent information available from all six categories that make up Quality Counts’ full policy-and-performance framework."
    New Jersey was graded a B- (80.7) and ranked at #7.
    Georgia was graded a B- (80.5) and ranked at #8.
    The highest rated state was Maryland at a B+ (87.6)
    See for more information.