State Board of Education Caves to Murphy and Repollet’s Regressive Demands: Can the Assembly Save Our Kids?

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Yesterday the State Board of Education (with the exception of bold Vice President Andy Mulvihill) folded to pressure and voted 12-1 to eliminate the 10th grade standardized assessments that offer guidance to families, teachers, and schools on students’ academic strengths and weaknesses. Think of this as a domino effect: NJEA leaders own Governor Murphy, who accepted an early endorsement in exchange for a promise to eliminate PARCC “Day 1.” Murphy owns Lamont Repollet (who, to the shock of many, was appointed Education Commissioner despite his Asbury Park shenanigans), who in turn plays hardball with the BOE.  There’s still hope, with a 60-day public comment period and a final vote in February. But then the deed is done: Less transparency, less data, less honesty, and a regression to an academic culture of low expectations.

All because NJ’s outdated statute says students must take diploma-qualifying tests in 11th grade, a detail easily tweaked by a bill already written.  But with the State Assembly paralyzed by upcoming elections and in thrall to lobbyists (the Senate already passed the bill) Murphy’s promise to minimize accountability translates to elimination of all other high school end-of-year standardized tests. 

Where does this leave New Jersey’s 1.4 million students?  During the junior year of high school as they’re preparing for and taking college admissions tests, students will be forced to take additional tests on material they learned years ago. This may not matter for wealthy students, majority white, who can afford tutors and SAT prep courses that will cover 8th-10th grade material. 

But what about low-income students stuck in under-achieving schools? Their 11th grade ELA and math teachers will spend the year reteaching 10th grade work. 

This compounds the problem that getting a job in NJ is increasingly tied to having a college degree: Projections show that 42% of jobs in the Garden State require a B.A. or B.S., a percentage exceeded only by Massachusetts and D.C. 

Never mind. Our regressive administration is determined to turn the clock back to the old days of meaningless diploma qualifying tests, regardless of long-term detrimental effects on our children, particularly those in low-income districts that will focus on below-grade-level material. 

In a recent report called “LOCKED OUT OF THE FUTURE: How New Jersey’s Higher Education System Serves Students Inequitably and Why It Matters,” authors Konrad Mugglestone and Michael Dannenberg write, 

[W]hile New Jersey does produce better than average overall K-12 student performance, it also produces glaring racial disparities in college preparation levels. Of particular concern are massive gaps in mathematics preparation – where Black and Latinx students are only approximately one-third as likely as white students to score at or above college and career ready expectations on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Algebra II testing. 

Who is responsible for those circumstances? No matter how much you might hate Chris Christie, he was aligned with President Obama’s progressive education policies. No, to find the culprit we must roll back the dominoes and head to the Governor’s Office where Murphy’s Deputy Chief of Staff happens to be a former NJEA lobbyist. 

Maybe it’s flat-out unfair to expect Repollet to pull a Mitt Romney and challenge his feckless leader. Sometimes I feel sorry for the guy. I  saw him at the NJ Charter Schools Convention last week and, when he spoke to the crowd at an evening event, he seemed to genuinely care about the plight of students stuck in long-struggling districts, just like Asbury Park where last year students signed for only one AP course and only one out of five high school students met college-ready benchmarks.

Not much for them out there in college-degree-laden New Jersey.

So, okay, I’m not so sorry for him. 

Look: There’s no escaping the conclusion that Gov. Murphy, the BOE, and (as of now — hope springs eternal) the State Assembly are complicit in taking Repollet’s 64 Floor Asbury Park scheme statewide. Low expectations yield better high school graduation rates which yield props from NJEA which yields lobbyists’ fealty to Murphy.

Lost in all this patronage are our children, especially those from Black, brown, and low-income families.

A few reality checks:

Senator Teresa Ruiz, author of that Senate bill the Assembly squats on, called Repollet’s proposal and the subsequent vote “irresponsible,” adding, “I think maybe political promises were made to reduce testing, so randomly the 10th grade exam was selected.”

BOE VP Andrew Mulvihill opined,“this is the best we can do within the circumstances that has been presented to us … This is not the best we can do for the students of New Jersey.”

And a statement from JerseyCAN and Better Education For Kids:

Today’s action is an improvement but as numerous Board of Education members acknowledged, the Department of Education’s proposal still falls short for New Jersey’s children and families.   It reduces accountability within the school system and will provide less information to families and schools. It is now incumbent upon the Legislature to act to ensure our State maintains meaningful graduation requirements and that parents have access to timely data that can improve educational outcomes and better prepare our kids for college and career readiness.  We thank the Board Members for their continued diligence and persistence to guarantee the best interests of our students are maintained.

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