Abbott Districts: Better Funding, Better Achievement

THU, MAR 16, 2006 (1:34:06)

The Harvard Graduate School of Education hosts a forum focusing on New Jersey's Abbott Districts, where state aid, resulting from thirty years of legal challenges, makes average per pupil spending higher now than it is in the state's suburbs. This increase in spending highlights the link between better funding and academic achievement. Can whole school systems be transformed to close achievement gaps? Does money matter? Thirty little-known Abbott Districts in New Jersey are the nation's leading response. The Abbott and Union City stories are not well known, but have national implications.

This forum features Gordon MacInnes, Assistant Commissioner for Abbott Implementation, and Fred Carrigg, Special Assistant to the Commissioner for Urban Literacy, who helped move Union City from the second lowest-performing system in New Jersey to the highest among the state's larger systems. Ronald Ferguson, Lecturer in Public Policy, Kennedy School of Government, moderates.

+ BIO: Gordon MacInnes

The resignation of Gordon MacInnes as the Assistant Commissioner of Education is fueling speculation that he will challenge GOP State Senator Anthony Bucco in the 25th district. MacInnes, who served in the State Senate before losing to Bucco in 1997, has not announced his future plans.

The 65-year-old Democrat, who has spent five years administering the state's Abbott district program, was elected to the State Assembly in the 1973 Democratic landslide. He lost his bid for a second term two years later, and then went to the Senate in a major upset when he defeated Majority Leader John Dorsey in 1993. In 2003, his wife, Blair MacInnes, won 45% in her race against Bucco.

+ BIO: Fred Carrigg

Fred Carrigg is currently "on loan" to the New Jersey Department of Education as the New Jersey Director of Reading First. He is working with the state to restructure reading programs in impoverished districts, thereby reducing the number of children reading below grade level by 30% within 3 years. He is also a special assistant to the commissioner for urban literacy, working with the poorest districts in the state on curriculum, instruction, policies, and programs to improve urban education.

Since 1989, Fred has been the executive director for academic programs in Union City, New Jersey. He supervises the development and implementation of curriculum for all programs, Pre-K-12. He also oversees the seamless integration of technology into the daily curriculum for which Union City is nationally recognized. Fred served as Union City's bilingual/ESL supervisor for twelve years. Prior to that, he taught eighth grade and ESL, Spanish, and reading at Union Hill High School.

Fred has a BA in foreign languages from Montclair State and an EdM in intercultural education from Rutgers University.

+ BIO: Ronald Ferguson

Ronald F. Ferguson is an MIT-trained economist who focuses social science research on economic, social, and educational challenges. He has been on the faculty at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government since 1983, after full time appointments at Brandeis and Brown Universities. In 2014, he co-founded Tripod Education Partners and shifted into an adjunct role at the Kennedy School, where he remains a fellow at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy and faculty director of the university-wide Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI).

During the 1980s and ’90s Ron focused much of his attention on economic and community development. That work culminated in the social science synthesis volume Urban Problems and Community Development (1999), which remains an important text in graduate policy courses.

By the late 1980s, he had begun to study education and youth development because academic skill disparities were contributing to growing wage disparity. During the 1990s and early 2000s, his writings on the topic appeared in publications of the National Research Council, the Brookings Institution, the U.S. Department of Education, and various books and journals. In December 2007, Harvard Education Press published his book Toward Excellence with Equity: An Emerging Vision for Closing the Achievement Gap. A February 2011 profile of Ron in the New York Times wrote, “there is no one in America who knows more about the gap than Ronald Ferguson.”

Ron’s current focus as AGI director is an initiative entitled the Boston Basics that is spreading to other cities in a Basics National Network. It takes a socio-ecological saturation approach, collaborating with many partners to reach extended families with caregiving advice for infants and toddlers. In addition, Ron is co-authoring a book with journalist Tatsha Robertson on the ways that highly successful people were parented. Ron holds an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a Ph.D. from MIT, both in economics. He has been happily married for 39 years and is the father of two adult sons.

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