Is a Jersey City Public Education Priceless?

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Here’s the most in-depth discussion of educational issues among our gubernatorial candidates. The Star-Ledger’s Editorial Board covers the usual contentious topics – school funding, universal preschool, charter schools and vouchers, teacher tenure – with Corzine and Christie mostly hedging their bets (Corzine: “ [School] Choice is fine if you define that as our young people having the opportunity to go out of their schools in their district, or in our specialized districts, or if you’re talking about charter schools,” Christie on teacher tenure: I’m open to a whole number of suggestions, but I’d like those to come from experts: teachers, parents and school administrators and get input from all of them) and Daggett laying it on the line (“Give teachers who are found wanting a road map to improve. If not, then get rid of them.”).

Interestingly, both Corzine and Christie choose to linger far more on input than output. They talk about the school funding, about tenure, about school construction: all input. The one question about school performance – output – gets booted, seemingly out of an attempt to not antagonize teachers.

Here’s Corzine on the superiority of his School Funding Reform Act: “We’ve taken into account the ability of a community to pay, and also take into account what is necessary to have adequate funding for the individual child.” When the economy improves and the state has additional resources, “we will have additional dollars going to schools on a need basis, not on a political basis.”

Christie argues back,

I don’t think that it’s good enough. I didn’t like it when it passed. We have to do a much better job in dealing with the inequities with the funding formula. You look at the affect the school funding formula is having on suburban districts and charter schools. The Learning (Community) Charter School in Jersey City is receiving a funding cut from $10,500 to $8,900,” while per per-pupil spending for Jersey City public schools this year is $17,500. “I think we have to go back and start over.

(Note: NJ DOE data for the 2007-2008 school year says that cost per pupil in Jersey City Public Schools was $16,124 and at Learning Community Charter Schools was $11,836. Christie’s using numbers for 2008-2009.)

But there’s little discussion of academic performance. So let’s look. At Learning Community Charter School, 8.3 % of the third grade class failed the ASK3 in Language Arts and 2.8% failed the ASK3 in Math. At an arbitrarily-selected Jersey City elementary school, Alexander D. Sullivan 30, 37.2% of 3d graders failed the ASK3 in Language Arts and 31.7% failed the ASK3 Math. 29.7% of Learning Community Charter School’s 7th graders failed the ASK7 Language Arts assessment and 24.4% failed the ASK7 Math. 6.5% of LCCS’s eighth graders failed both the ASK8 in Language Arts and Math. At another arbitrarily-selected Jersey City Middle School, Number 4 Middle School, 45.1% of 7th graders failed the ASK7 Math Language Arts and49.6% failed the ASK7 Math. 65.7% of 8th graders at Number 4 failed the ASK8 Language Arts test and 82.4% failed the ASK8 Math.

No doubt there’s extenuating circumstances to explain the output in Jersey City traditional public schools – more special ed kids, more ELL’s, whatever. But aren’t the glaring disparities in output worth a mention from either of our two main-party candidates? A good public school education may be priceless, but it’s still worth a cost analysis.

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