The Terrible Trio?. . Choice, Vouchers & Tenure

This is a response to a comment posted by Anonymous on my blog Stepping on Up!!

Dear Anonymous:

Thanks for finding my blog, and kudos for being the first to comment. I'll respond for clarification even though you chose to post anonymously. As I learned in Journalism 101, there's obviously a loss of credibility for your part, but that's your CHOICE. . .

The blame game is easy to play. If there is any agreement between us, it may be that all players share "blame" in some way, shape or form. Now the requisite blame card has been played. . . let's get on with the discussion about improving educational opportunities for children.

Choice is a nice concept in its purest form - a form that doesn't exist except in your mind - for you, or my mind - for me. In the RSD mind, choice means you can choose which school you want to APPLY to. Few parents are happy with the application process that is part of the choice maze. The reality is that many students are not accepted to their school of first, second or even third choice.

I just returned from the RSD100Days Parent Task Force Meeting at Langston Hughes Academy Charter School. Out of the 30 or so attendees, maybe two were parents. Most were Teach For America instructors. Most were white. I'm guessing that all, except me, were twenty-something. If you've ever been to Langston Hughes you know it's a new state-of-the-art facility near the City Park area. After the meeting, RSD Superintendent John White shared with me his dismay that there weren't more parents representative of the student population in attendance. His further comment that he expects there to be more parental representation at the next meeting Saturday at the Dryades YMCA (are you familiar with the demographics?) was telling. I predict the make-up and tenor of the group will be a contrast also.

In spite of the idyllic surroundings of the school and accolades by parents and staff, you will find that the 2010-11 school performance scores rated a "D" by the LDOE. Last year an office employee was convicted of stealing over $600,000 in CASH from the school coffers. Now ask yourself - what's wrong with this picture? Now don't count me in that number who might say that the school is "failing" or that the students and teachers are "failing." I would say that this is a pretty clear example of the chartering company failing, the governing body - RSD/BESE - failing, and the system of accountability that labels the majority of its students and schools as "D" or "F" as failing the students and the community.

The voucher system may, on its surface, seem "eminently equitable and fair to all concerned." Consider that it's only "fair" to the parent that can afford the balance of the tuition and the attendant additional costs of a private school, can provide transportation to and from the school, and can satisfy any personal commitments or academic requirements for the child to attend. Again, you can see how "choice" is limited. Former BESE member Leslie Jacobs, a promoter and supporter of the state takeover of low-performing schools, recently completed a study that showed voucher students generally scored below their peers still attending RSD direct run schools. So the CHOICE is there, but what about the results?

Tenure is a another weapon of education privatization advocates that is so easily used because it plays on the disdain by many of unions. One of many examples of the misuse of statistics is your claim that "in 10 years, only about 47 out of 100,000 teachers were actually terminated from New Jersey's schools." Even if one accepts those figures as being accurate, they bear no direct correlation to the value or failure of tenure. Tenure is a subject I'll address individually in a separate blog, but here are a few arguments. The attrition rate is high for teachers, many of whom leave the profession either before they reach tenure or after for a variety of reasons: relocation, childbirth, change professions, fired before reaching tenure, laid off, and sadly just not cut out for the rigors of teaching. Those numbers are aside from the number of those you cite who are "terminated" after reaching tenure.

One might expect that the "100,000" left were pretty seasoned and had been mentored, trained, and held accountable as they should be prior to reaching tenure. It makes sense to me that there would not be mass terminations of teachers because of incompetence. Tenure not only provides DUE PROCESS, something I'm sure every private and public employee would like to enjoy, but it is a system that makes it incumbent upon administrators and supervisors to provide new teachers with mentors, quality professional development, supervision and support during the years leading to tenure. It would be a rare teacher who would survive high expectations and rigors of the first few years of teaching and then turn rogue. Accountability is an issue that needs to be addressed for all levels in the field of education, but surely you can imagine that no one is held more accountable than a teacher who answers to a minimum of one parent per child (130 average) every single day. If a bridge collapses, is the CEO of a construction company the only one to be held accountable?

We may disagree on a few specific issues regarding public education, but I feel your pain and the need to design and enforce accountability systems that work for educators at all levels, equitability in the distribution of resources, accessibility to quality schools for all children, reduction of waste in the expenditure of taxpayer money, and an elected local/community governance system for public schools that addresses the needs and hears the voice of the local community that has some responsibility and power to hold it accountable. It is my hope that before there is a voucher system that can GUARANTEE all recipients receive a better education in their private school of choice, that the public school system will be a viable choice.

Since vouchers alone will not replace or correct the public system of education, I hope you'll reconsider your vote and choose a candidate who is capable of providing innovative, meaningful and effective reforms that will provide a CHOICE for ALL CHILDREN who are the future of our economy and our democracy.

By the way - why did you refer to the Tea Party as "meanie terrorists"? I made no reference to them in my blog.


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