Friday Thoughts: In my own words (recent media commentary)

Interview for In These Times:

[I]t’s much easier to point blame at those working within the system–like teachers–than to actually raise the revenues to provide the resources necessary to really improve the system–to pay sufficient wages to attract and retain top college graduates and to provide the working conditions that would make teaching more appealing–including smaller total student loads… and higher quality infrastructure, materials, supplies, equipment and other supports.

In my interview with Geoff Mulvihill of AP:

In response to what reforms are needed most in New Jersey?

From a research angle, if you looked at the high-performing and the low-performing schools and you asked yourself what’s different about them, well, our highest-performing schools also have step-structured pay scales, collective bargained agreements, tenure, union contracts as do our low-performing schools. That’s not a differentiating factor.

These things that we’re talking about like merit pay, disrupting union contracts and collective bargaining don’t tend to be the things that the high-performing schools are doing.|head

Follow up in a similar question

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.

It may be that we’ve got some inequities in teaching quality. But to suggest that those inequities are a function of not having merit pay or they’re a function of having collective bargaining and a union presence doesn’t seem to fit when those structures also exist in the highly successful and affluent districts.|head

On where to go from here:

I think we’ve got to keep up the effort of targeting resources toward the high-need districts, and the key is that equitable and adequate funding — and this is my big punchline — is the necessary condition for everything. If you want to run a good charter school, if you want to run a good public school, you’ve got to have enough money to do a good job.



  1. Professor Baker:

    I am a student of Michael Rebell and Henry Levin at Teachers College. In your interview with the Courier Post, you discuss the problems of having concentrated poverty and concentrated minority populations in schools. Many scholars such as Gary Orfield and Amy Stuart Wells have discussed the impact of segregated schools upon student achievement. But is this a losing battle to fight? Since the 2007 Parents Involved decision, policymakers appear to not consider schools to be segregated and are unwilling to deal with issues of race or concentrated poverty. Also, you mention targeting additional resources towards high needs districts. Would this include what Professor Rebell calls Comprehensive Educational Opportunity (ie preschool, pre-natal care, in home tutoring, school based health services, after school, etc.)? And have you had a chance to read the papers by Richard Rothstein and Henry Levin and Clive Belfield about the cost of providing Comprehensive Educational Opportunity?

    1. Arguably, aggressive integration strategies were a losing battle long before Parents Involved. Parents involved merely limits school districts’ ability to reassign within their boundaries on the basis of race, but most segregation is between districts, and aggressive between district remedies have been off the table since the 1970s ( Further, states have continued to pass re-segregation legislation, including a 2006 (around then) Missouri statute allowing the remaining white corner of KC Mo school district to unilaterally annex itself to the neighboring majority white district (Independence), leaving an even more segregated KCMSD behind (only a few years after the district gained unitary status – see:

      What we know is that it costs more to achieve desired outcomes when we have concentrated poverty and for that matter concentrated minority populations. See: & One can assume that appropriate ways to allocate the additional money might include the types of strategies discussed by Rothstein or by Hank and Clive.

      So, essentially it boils down to the choice of evening out the cost distribution and potentially lowering the overall cost of equitable/adequate outcomes by better integrating students, or paying the high price of trying to improve outcomes in a highly segregated system. I suspect most policymakers would choose the latter over the former, and in many cases they get away with doing neither.

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