Dr. Henry Levin, William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University's Teachers College, continuing his testimony today, reiterated that children from poverty can absolutely be brought into the educational mainstream. He stressed, however, that simply complying with the rules does not necessarily produce results. Well-meaning educators often get too concerned with meeting standards and lose sight of the educational process, Dr. Levin said, stating that rules don't get the job done, but a caring principal with fire-in-the-belly does. Dr. Levin outlined programs such as pre-school and extended day as effective ways of making up for the deficiencies in the backgrounds of children from poverty. When asked about the cost effectiveness of such programs he noted that their benefits had often been proven to exceed costs by a six to one ratio. Dr. Levin said that most of the educational solutions in his testimony were based on common sense, and that while there were many models for improvement, the key element was effort. The job of schools is to promote learning and not to use poverty as an excuse, he said.
Following Dr. Levin's testimony Ms. Paula Harris, superintendent of the Allendale school district, took the stand. Ms. Harris detailed the demographics of the school district, where 35.8% of the population lives below the poverty line and 87.3% of the students are on free or reduced lunch. The district was taken over by the State Department of Education shortly before Ms. Harris' arrival as superintendent.
Ms. Harris testified that the greatest problem she faces is attracting high-quality, trained teachers. She explained that, among other things, the inferior salary offered in Allendale forces the district to hire teachers who have sub-standard certificates and to use long-term substitutes to fill remaining vacancies. Allendale also has a 24.4% teacher turnover rate that Ms. Harris says wrecks professional development programs, and fills the schools with inexperienced teachers. She likened new teachers to chefs with only one recipe, and said that it was directly affecting students' ability to get a minimally adequate education. Looking at Allendale's PACT scores, Ms. Harris said she was very worried. and noted that students scoring basic on the exam often do not have mastery of the grade material and are likely to fall behind and score below basic the next year. If the rest of the state has a cold, Ms. Harris said, we've got pneumonia.
Ms. Harris' testimony will continue tomorrow.