On the polished floor of the community center in Millburn’s Taylor Park, a small group of children sat quietly, hands folded, as their mothers chanted:"What do we want? A vote! When do we want it? Now!" while an assortment of politicians pledged obeisance to what these parents demanded: An end to the unchecked growth of charter schools.
The scene was repeated elsewhere last night, in South Brunswick and Highland Park, where this mothers’ crusade known as Save Our Schools-New Jersey pushed for the passage of laws allowing local communities a vote on permitting charter schools and subjecting the privately operated schools to strict accountability. (emphasis mine)
There is a world of difference between claiming, as the Klein-Rhee statement does, that the single biggest factor in student success is teacher quality and claiming, as Barack Obama does in his more careful moments, that the single biggest school factor is teacher quality. Decades of social science research have demonstrated that differences in the quality of schools can explain about one-third of the variation in student achievement. But the other two-thirds is attributable to non-school factors.
When the president says that the single most important factor is parents, he does not mean the parents’ zip code or income or skin color, as though zip codes or income or skin color themselves influence a child’s achievement. Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee’s caricature of the research in this way prevents a careful consideration of policies that could truly raise the achievement of America’s children. What President Obama means is that if a child’s parents are poorly educated themselves and don’t read frequently to their young children, or don’t use complex language in speaking to their children, or are under such great economic stress that they can’t provide a stable and secure home environment or proper preventive health care to their children, or are in poor health themselves and can’t properly nurture their children, or are unable to travel with their children or take them to museums and zoos and expose them to other cultural experiences that stimulate the motivation to learn, or indeed live in a zip code where there are no educated adult role models and where other adults can’t share in the supervision of neighborhood youth, then children of such parents will be impeded in their ability to take advantage of teaching, no matter how high quality that teaching may be. (emphasis mine)
“I say straight out that there are many, many interests at work in public education,” he explains. “There are the interests of children, of course, which everyone talks about. There are the interests of employees, who have a perfectly legitimate set of interests to guard against arbitrariness and get as much economic benefit out of their work as is possible. There are commercial interests, like vendors and publishers…. The 600 districts in New Jersey have their interests as well: in expanding their power, their authority, their institutional permanence…. But the great myth of public education is that the Venn diagram of those interests is perfectly intersecting. There are areas of substantial overlap, but many areas do not. I represent the interests of the children of New Jersey, pure and simple. When there is a conflict between interests, and you would be amazed at how many issues come my way where you actually have to make a call between one interest and the other, I’m with the children. And I make that clear.” (emphasis mine)