How About an Interdistrict Teacher Choice Program?

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The Senate Assembly Education Committee was told yesterday afternoon that we can improve our failing urban schools by pairing successful, experienced teachers with struggling students, according to an A.P. story in today’s Record, and “insisting that high academic standards be met.” An expert brought in by the Committee, C. Kent McGuire of Temple University, said that “that up to 70 percent of urban middle schoolers are being taught math by teachers who are not certified in that subject.”

Problem: Most of our “more experienced teachers” don’t teach in Camden or Trenton. They teach in Moorestown (in a county adjacent to Camden’s) or Montgomery (in a county adjacent to Trenton’s).

Solution: Find a teachable moment in our blossoming-yet-still-pilot Interdistrict School Choice Program, which was cleared yesterday by the Assembly Education Committee to go permanent if that is the Legislature’s wont. The program permits small numbers of children stuck in chronically failing schools to cross district lines to attend another, better school. (See our posts here and here.) Now for the cool part: create an Interdistrict Teacher Choice Program. This would permit small numbers of teachers stuck in chronically successful schools to cross district lines to another, worse school that really needs their expertise and experience. Of course, said teachers would receive salary increases for their commitment to educating all children and the inconvenience of a longer commute.

Yes, yes. It would be a mess with separate district bargaining agreements. But wouldn’t that be an opportunity to chip away at the monolithic district barriers that render our public school system the most segregated in the country? Let the kids move to a higher performing district so that they have a shot at meaningful academic achievement. And let our teachers move (with cash incentives) to lower-performing districts so that we can avail ourselves of all the research out there that says that experienced, certified teachers make more of a difference with students than inexperienced, uncertified ones.

First Note: at the Assembly meeting yesterday, Committee Chair Joe Cryan pointed out that in our poorest urban districts “[w]hile charter schools often are successful, about a quarter fail.” We’d invite Assemblyman Cryan to take a gander at the success rate of traditional public schools in our poorest urban districts. DOE data shows that far more than “about a quarter fail.”

Second Note: Is the reference to “high academic standards” a dig at the Special Review Assessment, often used as a back-door way for kids to receive N.J. high school diplomas even when they fail the 11th grade standardized test three times? For example, at Woodrow Wilson High in Camden City, a scant 10.6% of students received diplomas by passing the HSPA, while 62.8% used the SRA. In other words, fewer than 11% of graduates were able to pass what Ed Commissioner Lucille Davy has called a “middle school level test.” Would a higher proportion of these kids succeeded if they had more experienced teachers? The research (and the testimony to the Education Committee yesterday) says “yes.”

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  • RDOwens, January 6, 2010 @ 12:20 am Reply

    Do you have a citation for the claim that Camden has less veteran teachers than Moorestown?

  • NJ Left Behind, January 6, 2010 @ 3:38 pm Reply

    I was referring to the speaker at the Assembly Ed Committee, C. Kent McGuire, cited in the Record article, who gave the 70% statistic. The DOE database says that only .9% of teachers in Camden are uncertified, compared to 0% in Moorestown. I think the problem, more generally, is that schools in poor districts are taught by less competent and/or less experienced teachers. That’s one of the national failings that Race To The Top seeks to address. Here’s an article regarding the impact of effective teachers on underachieving kids:

    I should have been more specific. Thanks for writing.

  • RDOwens, January 7, 2010 @ 12:30 am Reply

    Certification does not equate to length of service. I am aware of a teacher who has almost 30 years of service who is not highly qualified because of the placement she has been assigned. Think of this as a backup quarterback who is used as a split end. He may not be the best split end, but he's a good football player and it pays to have him in the game.

    I think the problem, more generally, is that schools in poor districts are taught by less competent and/or less experienced teachers.
    On what do you base that opinion?

    How do you measure competence?

  • NJ Left Behind, January 7, 2010 @ 1:21 pm Reply

    From the Linda Darling-Hammond link I referred to, which is indicative of much research out there: “Recent studies of teacher effects at the classroom level using the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System and a similar data base in Dallas, Texas, have found that differential teacher effectiveness is a strong determinant of differences in student learning, far outweighing the effects of differences in class size and heterogenity (Sanders & Rivers, 1996; Wright, Horn, & Sanders, 1997; Jordan, Mendro, & Weerasinghe, 1997). Students who are assigned to several ineffective teachers in a row have significantly lower achievement and gains in achievement than those who are assigned to several highly effective teachers in sequence (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). Teacher effects appear to be additive and cumulative, and generally not compensatory. These studies also find troubling indicators for educational equity, noting evidence of strong bias in assignment of students to teachers of different effectiveness levels (Jordan, Mendro, & Weerasinghe, 1997), including indications that African American students are nearly twice as likely to be assigned to the most ineffective teachers and half as likely to be assigned to the most effective teachers (Sanders & Rivers, 1996).”

    Are you suggesting that teacher competence can't be measured?

  • RDOwens, January 7, 2010 @ 10:31 pm Reply

    I am unfamiliar with the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System. I will have to research this.

    I imagine competence can be measured. I am unfamiliar with how to do it, hence my question.

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