it’s your sparsely-posting blogger. Sorry for that. Blame it on the annual New Jersey School Boards Workshop at the A.C. Convention Center. Things are winding down today — mostly board members dutifully filing in for their required yearly training sessions. Vendors packed up late yesterday, so no more raffles for ipod minis or grabs of free halloween candy or, that perennial favorite, chapsticks emblazoned with company logos. Livin’ it large in A.C
Sessions veered this year towards every district’s preoccupation: implementing TEACHNJ, NJ’s new teacher evaluation and tenure law. For the first time this year all staff (to varying degrees) will have student outcome data infused into annual evaluations. Concurrently NJ is piloting PARCC, the new student assessments aligned with the Common Core. Everyone’s head is spinning.
Per tradition, Ed. Comm. Chris Cerf spoke to a large crowd on Tuesday afternoon. He began on a slightly defensive note with a cogent response to those who charge that, under his leadership, NJ has embarked on a conspiracy to “privatize” public schools. He noted that over the past three years the DOE has authorized the approval of 24 new charters and the closing of 10. Of those 24, 18 are in high-needs areas, specifically Camden, Newark, Paterson, and Jersey City.
Cerf then praised the general achievement of NJ public school students; according to NAEP scores, we’re in the top 4 of states in all categories. On the other hand, our high school graduates are poorly prepared for career and work readiness because our diploma qualifying test tops out at 9th grade level skills. (I’ve heard 8th grade, but no need to quibble.)
And then, of course, we have those daunting 30-point achievement gaps between white kids and black and Latino kids, year after year after year.
But here was a new twist. Cerf, not for the first time but the first time for this audience, suggested that there was an element of racism to folks’ resistance to rapid change (which, he insists, isn’t so rapid: five years to implement Common Core, six to PARCC testing), a negligent tolerance of systemic failure. Imagine, said Cerf, if we flipped the demographics and Latino kids graduated from high school with the equivalent of four years more academic achievement than white kids. In that scenario, “nobody would stand for it.”