Linda Darling-Hammond’s recent lecture at the Education Law Center in Newark could not have come at a more appropriate time for concerned New Jersey educators. Except for heated debates between a newly elected governor and the New Jersey Education Association, the only notoriety that New Jersey has received lately has been Jersey Shore, a silly reality television show glorifying bar-hopping, fake tans and unruly hair poufs. Surely, New Jersey has more to offer than “GTL” (that would be gym, tan, laundry) and the popular show’s cast of mostly non-Jersey residents. Darling-Hammond’s lecture highlighted New Jersey’s progress as a national leader in education and her comments came against a backdrop of harsh economic reality that many in the audience clearly felt could have a deleterious effect on that progress in the form of imminent budget cuts.
Darling-Hammond, who is a Stanford University professor and nationally-known education policy expert, said that because of the state’s Abbott program, inequities between districts have been minimized, enabling minority students the opportunity to better succeed. Her point was that New Jersey’s outcomes should be looked to by other states and federal policymakers as they address the vast disparities that continue to exist among the nation’s schools and hinder the progress of our students. Darling-Hammond made no political comments, but she did stress that the gains that have been made over the past ten years here in the Garden State need to be continued.
One of the most attention-grabbing statistics that Darling-Hammond shared was that even though New Jersey boasts demographic diversity that’s similar to California, minority students in New Jersey scored higher on one test than did average students in California. Even naysayers should agree that this is a testament to the fact that the system in New Jersey has been working and that it should not be cut off in the prime of its game. Darling-Hammond’s praise is especially uplifting, coming, as it does, in the midst of the most passionate education debate the state has seen in a long while, one in which teachers have been the target of negativity on radio stations and newspaper blogs. As a former Camden teacher, Darling-Hammond made it clear that investing in teachers is the key to successful school finance. “Standards can’t teach themselves,” she said.
In a time when a majority of folks voted down their local school budgets and others rally for school choice, it seems that some of the data that Darling-Hammond so eloquently presented should be wider spread and better known by New Jersey voters. Maybe voters would take more notice if she got herself a fake tan and pouf hair-do!
— Alex Figueras-Daniel
Research Project Coordinator, NIEER