Educational Non-accountability

By Michael P. Riccards

For the last seven years or so the nation has been under an educational mandate called the No Child Left Behind Act. Supported by both parties and President George W. Bush, the Act was supposed to result in a major revolution in expectations and accomplishments. Yet, like so many educational reform programs, it has not really fulfilled its early promises. It is now up for re-authorization and is facing strong Democratic party opposition, mainly at the bidding of its ally the National Education Association.

In New Jersey, the educational equalization movement has gotten a large impetus from the State Supreme Court in its Abbott decisions. The state now directs about 40% of its overall education budget to 31 Abbott districts, and construction money especially has flowed like the state’s proverbial rivers and brooks.

Suburban and working class districts have complained about the effects of Abbott but have gotten nowhere until this year when Governor Jon Corrine proposed a draft of a new formula based not on a student’s zip code, but on a specific student’s status, favoring those from low income or disadvantaged backgrounds or learning disabilities.

Corrine’s proposal represents a more thoughtful alternative than just dumping money into a district labeled poor. Some of these districts, especially those near New York City like Hoboken, have seen housing and their income levels boom and should not benefit from Abbott anymore. But before one continues funding Abbott, there is a need to see if the huge billion dollar investment has acceptable standards of accountability. We know for example that pre-k education seems to be somewhat successful, at least in the beginning of a child’s learning career. Whether that continues later is another matter.

For example, consider one of those Abbott districts in Asbury Park, a depressed area experiencing a modest real estate boom and rising shore prices. The city spends $23,57l per pupil, of which $20,627 comes from the state’s taxpayers not the local ones. Despite the view that education is a local responsibility, only 7% of this district’s funds come from local sources. The average teacher salary there is $51,475, which is not a great deal of money. The student faculty ratio is a very low 7.3 to 1, which does not include any calculations for the number of students who are chronically ill, absent, or late and thus do not sit in anybody’s class on a given day.

The percentage of students who get free or reduced price lunch remains very high at 82%. And how do their students do in this new Abbott funded model, that really is the important question for education reformers. The percentage of students who can meet standards in fourth grade is 49%. The percentage in grade eight has dropped to 22%. The average SAT score (which is meant for their better students) was 736; one gets 600 points for just showing up on test day.

It is becoming very obvious that political accountability is just not in the driver’s seat. That does not mean that students are not being tested; they are tested ad nauseum. They are, however, not learning. The ironic fact is that we know what works—one knows what should be the subject matter and benchmark each year; we know that we should spend more time on faculty development and stop top hiring teaching positions as dumping grounds for political friends and cronies. (See my The Myth of American Mis-Education: A Popular Guide to Reform on this website.) We need targeted testing not endless ordeals every year. Lastly, we need more strategies to integrate parents, caregivers, and churches into support groups for those children. Being smart at school isn’t a white middle class thing, it is the key to opening the door to social and economic mobility for these kids—as it was for so many of us.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: