David Sciarra, Executive Director of Education Law Center, has just put out an“educational blueprint for 2011 driven by the needs of our students.” Dismissing derogatory descriptions of NJ’s underachieving poor districts as “divisive rhetoric and reckless proposals that will undermine our public schools,” he proposes “real reform,” which includes:
- Expanding high-quality preschool for all at-risk kids
- Piloting “appropriate and fair methods of evaluations” for “great teachers and principals.”
- Implementing a “Teacher Equity Initiative” to attract effective teachers to “high-needs schools.”
- Piloting “Children’s Promise Zones” with wrap-around services birth-grade 12.
- “Fixing serious deficiencies” within the NJ DOE.
- Increasing “multi-district magnet and charter schools” that serve a socio-economically diverse population.
- Consolidating all NJ school districts to K-12 districts within five years.
A few thoughts: Sciarra’s first recommendation is that the Legislature disregard the GOP leadership’s recent proposal that NJ cut full-day preschools in impoverished districts to half-day programs. He’s right: while data is mixed on sustainable academic growth, full-day preschool is still a good investment, especially if linked to wrap around services like those at Geoffrey Canada’s Children Zone. (Sciarra points to a program in Kalamazoo.)
However, later in the piece he exclaims, “We must take private school vouchers off the table.” In fact, our preschool programs in Abbott districts are run just like a voucher program, using public funds to pay for private services. Maybe there’s some room for compromise there. Or maybe we just need to find a different word for “vouchers.”
The reference to new methods of evaluations for “great teachers and principals” cleverly borrows terminology from the federal Race To The Top program. Very hip.
The criticism of the DOE is fair, especially the derision towards NJ’s decrepit NJ SMART data system, years behind and millions of dollars over budget. The caveat – that the DOE should ensure that “charter schools operate effectively, equitably and contribute to improving educational opportunities for all students in host districts” – is a tacit acknowledgment of the momentum to the school choice movement in NJ, once anathema to ELC.
The proposal for school district consolidation is under the banner of “Advancing Public School Diversity” and is, indeed, essential to lessening NJ’s segregated school system. Kudos to ELC for having the guts to take on that third rail of the Garden State, our worship of home rule.