Here’s Dr. Bruce Baker, Professor at Rutgers Graduate School of Education, in an A.P. interview with Geoff Mulvihill, on what New Jersey can do to combat some of the inequities of our public system of education:
The alternative [to pouring more money into NJ’s poor school districts] is if you can actually break up concentrated poverty and have kids more integrated and better mixed across settings, you can reduce the costs of getting to the same outcomes. But typically what you find in the political dynamic is that people are much more willing to pay the price of extreme segregation than to actually move forward on desegregation.
He’s right, of course. Historically we’ve been willing “to pay the price of extreme segregation” in order to maintain our wildly inefficient and inequitable public school system. While there are some efforts around the edges to increase access of poor kids to high-performing schools (like the Interdistrict Public School Choice Program), our devotion to local control and insularity drives school costs.
Absent some strong-willed Legislative effort to open up suburban schools to poor minority kids, the only fair remedy, argues Dr. Baker, is increasing school funding. “To raise the outcomes in that kind of setting requires substantial investment in early-childhood, substantial investment in class-size reduction — kind of layering on all of the possible strategies to make things work.”
Or at least the strategies that are politically palatable.
Are New Jerseyans taxed out enough to entertain the idea of allowing poor minority kids into their suburban oases? Nope. Dr. Baker speculates that if we take the state aid already allocated to school funding and “target it more aggressively” towards poor districts, “[m]any towns that lost state aid would raise their property taxes more as they do and seem willing to do invariably anyway. … They’re willing to vote more taxes on themselves and maybe complain about it the next day.”
How depressing. There’s no limit to what wealthy New Jerseyans will pay to maintain segregated schools, so equitable access is a lost cause.
A couple of other noteworthy points from the interview. Dr. Baker points to the inequity in NJ’s school children’s access to highly effective teachers.
If you look at the biggest differences between the schools that are doing well and the schools that are doing poorly, there may be differences in teaching quality. There may be differences in skill-set of the teachers who are sorting themselves among the more and less desirable schools. We have evidence from a number of years of studies of teacher labor-market behaviors in disadvantaged, high-needs, high-minority, high-poverty settings. Teachers will avoid those settings to begin with and they’ll leave those settings when they can.
He also criticizes NJEA’s leadership for belittling the impact of teacher effectiveness in its efforts to combat some of the educational initiatives of the Christie Administration: “It’s, certainly, I don’t think, an effective form of messaging [on the part of NJEA officials]. I think any organization of teachers … has to be viewing themselves as possibly having an effect. I do think the message comes out that way. I think that’s problematic.”