Is it something I said?
Thursday, January 10, 2013 • 2:29pm
A recent article on Paterson's NJ Ask Test scores suggests, by an albeit factual comment, that I am seemingly dismissive of a school district staff member. My comments, abrupt and unclear, tried to address the notion that we were focusing on just high school students, presumably at the expense of the remaining two thirds of the districts students. The employee was never my intended target but it appeared that way in the article. In fact my true target was the continued cognitive dissonance on the part of the press who don’t seem to connect the state DOE to the fact that they run Paterson's school district and are more than tangentially responsible for the education outcomes as THEY ARE IN CONTROL. That is what state control means!
The test results from the NJ ASK, as detailed in the aforementioned article, underscore the point that interference in the educational processes of local school districts does not imply immediate success or even success at all. The Paterson school district has been locked in the grip of the state Department of Education via the state takeover law for over 21 years. This means that the state of NJ, through its education commissioner, controls virtually every aspect of Paterson’s schools. They hire the schools Superintendent, negotiate his contract and have direct control over the district’s personnel choices. They control the funding, indeed the entire fiscal operation and the EDUCATIONAL programs that are run in that district. They make the final decisions over facilities and must okay any plan that the district develops to address any facility problem that we encounter. Indeed there is NO REMEDY that the advisory board can SUGGEST that can supercede what the state education commissioner, the controlling authority, can implement by mere edict.
But when the test scores do not measure up, the press consistently turns to the near powerless school board and demands to know why the program that the state developed and insisted on implementing here isn’t working. There is a tacit assumption that if a program is handed down from the NJ DOE, it must work. And any failure lies at the feet of the local entities wrestling with its implementation. This is despite the history of failure of state initiated programs, starting with the Paradigm program, implemented when they first took over the school district 21 years ago. You will remember that the Paradigm program stripped the district of Science, Art, and Music courses and focused just on Language Arts and Math. That didn’t work and the state appointed superintendent in charge of that was replaced.
Then came the next state appointed superintendent, who restored Art, Science and some Music, but whose stewardship led to tens of millions in missing money, students and staff being exposed to Asbestos in school buildings and a seemingly laissez faire approach to educational improvement. Because of the embarrassment of the mishandled money (NOT the poor test scores), he was allowed to retire.
Next came Governor Whitman’s Core Curriculum Content standards (CCCS), implemented to stave off the impending Abbott decision that would require equalized funding in the poorer school districts in the state. Since the CCCS didn’t satisfy the courts, let alone demonstrate a shred of promise to improve test scores, the state swept in with the Whole School Reform plan. The Whole School Reform initiative invited every Paterson school to purchase their own independent curricular approach from a bevy of private curriculum companies and schools of education. What followed was one school not knowing what the other was doing academically, no consistent standard, pacing or curriculum across the district. Add the fact that a significant number of Paterson students can attend more than one or two schools in a school year, the chaos of this approach collapsed in on itself.
Then the state orchestrated the choosing of one district-wide curricular program, from all the Whole School Reform programs available. The district was in the midst of its 4th state appointed schools superintendent in 10 years, and this approach went by the wayside as the 5th state appointed superintendent took over. This individual brought his own program and began to show improvement in test scores But since the new commissioner of education didn’t get along with this state appointed superintendent, he left and his program of instruction went along with him.
Now we are given the new Innovation Zone system, initiated by the state DOE and implemented by the current state superintendent, after pulling his own program, which was showing educational improvement. “The current superintendent scrapped his program and adopted the NJ DOE’s program during a time when his possible contract renewal was under extended review by the state DOE. Clearly a coincidence. So the staff now has to throw out everything they were doing and learn yet another state DOE approach and people are turning once again to the Advisory board and demanding to know why we are not seeing the kinds of improvement we would like.
Ultimately we the community are responsible for the education of our children. We must and will roll up our sleeves and do much better. I am prepared to take responsibility for the test scores and will be searching for answers and remedies in the short and long term. But I also realize that time and consistency are often just as important as any particular program. There are a variety of approaches that will garner educational success, if they are implemented well and given the time to work. State takeover has not allowed that time or consistency. The results speak for themselves. But the press, once again, asks the people not in charge, to explain why the initiatives of the people who are in charge, haven’t work. As long as this cognitive dissonance continues, we will, down the road, implement yet another educational program and waste, indeed, undermine the educational futures of more of Paterson’s children.