To the Editor:
Your article “New Jersey Pilot Effort Targets Needy High Schools” (May 18, 2005) quickly and elegantly showcases what the New Jersey Department of Education and the Education Law Center, the Newark-based advocacy group that represented the poor districts in the Abbot v. Burke school finance case, are best at: planning. However, it fails to mention what they are worst at: accountability.
The education department and law center’s latest plans ring hollow for New Jersey’s urban, Abbot-district citizenry. As their latest magic-bullet reform, the high school plan continues a trend of big ideas or panaceas that have, frankly, fallen on their faces at the expense of urban children.
After 14 years of state takeover—the first panacea—the public schools of Paterson, N.J., still show below- state-average test scores and a lack of fiscal controls. When asked about the failure of the state’s takeover, state Commissioner of Education William L. Librera stated that “the best models have places return to local control when they make significant progress,” but acknowledged that “we’ve never been able to do that.”
Gordon A. MacInnes, the assistant commissioner for implementation, testified recently that the reason test scores lag in many Abbot districts is that a focus on whole-school reform—the second panacea—has prevented teachers from teaching students what they actually need to know to pass state assessments. When asked by state Sen. Wayne R. Bryant how this could have happened, Mr. MacInnes replied that he didn’t know and couldn’t explain it.
Jack Kocsis Jr. resigned as chairman of the third panacea: New Jersey’s School Construction Corp., which was charged with implementing an $8.6 billion capital program primarily in the Abbot districts. Mr. Kocsis resigned, amid allegations of fiscal irresponsibility, with barely half the schools that were planned built and the SCC’s coffers near empty. It’s interesting to note that Mr. Kocsis still serves on the board of the SCC.
If this reads like a Shakespearean comedy of errors, it’s because it is.
Now the state education department, the Education Law Center, and the rest of the education cartel’s players want parents to wait for the fourth panacea: a high school plan that says nothing about the most critical piece of any reform—the quality of the adults in the building. Smaller learning communities and dynamic student interaction mean nothing if you don’t examine the ability of the adults charged with delivering an education to Abbot students.
Connecting the dots here is not difficult—nor is realizing that 14 years’, and billions of dollars’, worth of failed reform and capital implementation has New Jersey’s urban parents wanting school choice now more than ever. They simply don’t trust the education machine, and its unaccountable planning, with their children anymore.