Davy Takes the Stage

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It was standing room only yesterday at NJSBA’s “Conversation with the Commissioner” – over 300 board members and administrators eager to hear from Lucille Davy, who took the mike dressed in Philly’s red. Here’s a few highlights:

On N.J.’s Race To The Top application: “We expect to apply in the next few months” and “throw our hat in the ring.” She’s hopeful for cash because “we’re doing lots of cutting-edge reform.” Davy thinks that RTTT criteria may be build into the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, now known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Investing In Innovation (I3) cash: “We’re going for it,” particularly for money for data systems.

Common Core Standards: We’re proudly one of the 48 states that have signed on, but “Governor Corzine and I agree that we will not remain part of this effort if it means we will be taking any steps backwards…We will look and see — we’ll study the standards. We won’t adopt those unless it means something that is better for N.J.’s students.”

Preschool: “We have evidence in N.J. that early childhood education closes the gap. Corzine’s budget this year only funded preschool programs “already in existence, but those first dollars [once N.J. is flush again] will go into preschool expansion.” It’s the “game-changer.”

Question from NJSBA Rep Michael Resnick on repeat of stimulus money: “Is there a contingency plan on how you’ll allocate money if the economic climate doesn’t change?” Davy: N.J. is in great shape compared to other states. Michigan, for example, just reduced cost per pupil by $127. “I think there will be conversation at the Federal level” about another stimulus package for education. (Some disagreement here. Davy implies that the Feds will cough up more stimulus money, while the consensus at yesterday’s Legislative Session was that the odds were low for a repeat. Charlie Rose, Arne Duncan’s General Counsel, was unequivocal.)

Charter Schools: Commissioner Davy is apparently a convert: “I’m a big supporter of charter schools,” adding “the Feds are very supportive of charter schools.” Pushback from Resnick: School board members are concerned that parents who move their kids to charters are highly-motivated parents whose kids perform better on standardized tests. That hurts assessment results for traditional public schools. Davy: “We can’t look at charter schools as the enemy. They are part of the public school system…They are partners.” Grumpy school board members gasp in relief when she suggests that local districts can place charter schools within their own districts and then include the higher-performing-kids-with-supportive-parents in the local district’s assessment results. (We’re not sure how that works.)

Resnick: School Board member resent charter schools because they’re not held to the same accountability standards. Davy: We’re working on setting up an accountability system for charter schools similar to the one used for traditional schools, the Quality Single Accountability Continuum.

On NCLB’s list of Schools In Need of Improvement, which sanctions schools that miss only one of 41 subgroups: “It’s very very, very unfair.”

Consolidation: The most efficient and educationally sound model is a district that spans preschool through 12th grade. But “we’re not going to force anyone to consolidate. We’ll be able to make the case that educationally and fiscally it makes more sense.”

Davy’s favorite word: “candidly.”

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