The Merger MacarenaFebruary 3, 2009
Who’s Partially Proficient?February 4, 2009
New Jersey’s High School Redesign Steering Committee recently issued a set of newly rigorous requirements for public school diplomas. This effort is part of Corzine and the DOE’s noble attempt to infuse some equity into the State’s segregated and unequal educational system, funded largely by local property taxes. (Hence, the inequity.) The Abbott decisions have proved largely unsuccessful in leveling the playing field with huge infusions of cash. So now we’re trying a rigorous, State-wide set of high school graduation requirements.
You’ve got to hand it to the DOE: it’s nothing if not ambitious. High schoolers will over the next few years be required to pass Algebra II, Biology, Chemistry, Economics, and even take personal finance and online courses. However, over the last week protest has sprung up among a diverse group that is questioning the “one size fits all” paradigm and, simply, the ability of our 600+ districts to mesh reality with the State’s idealism.
For example, last week Commissioner Lucille Davy found herself defending the Algebra II requirement to the Assembly Education Committee, who mustered the authority of Rutgers math professor Joseph Rosenstein of the New Jersey Math and Science Coalition. Said Dr. Rosenstein, according to the Asbury Park Press,
Most of our students don’t need algebra II,” said Rosenstein, who supports requiring more practical applied math courses.
And the new course in personal finance? Opponents range from NJEA, who say that the material can be incorporated into regular math courses and the Press of Atlantic City, who editorialized this weekend,
The state is in dire financial straits as well and can little afford to underwrite anything – although it’s hoping the federal government will provide a bailout. The financial analysis of the bill provided by the Office of Legislative Services says that the state’s costs to underwrite the pilot program depend on how schools implement it: If they hire new teachers, the cost would be as much as $400 per pupil; if they don’t hire new teachers, the cost is negligible.
Meanwhile, the New Jersey Education Association says personal-finance lessons can be incorporated into existing course work in business, economics or math.
Now the New York Times reports that the requirement for an online course is causing some consternation among school officials because many of our high schools don’t have the technology to implement the new mandate. Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, said cautiously,
There may be value to exposing students to this type of instruction. But it may not be such a critical part of high school redesign that we need to make it a requirement.
And Jim O’Neill, the Superintendent of Chatham Public Schools sounded wary. Reports the Times,
Still, Mr. O’Neill said that he does not support mandating online courses for every high school student right now because many school districts do not have the infrastructure to support such a requirement and state education officials have yet to address critical issues, including whether time spent in an online course should count toward school attendance or instruction time.
So three requirements of our redesigned high school curriculum have come under attack, or at least under question, within one week. (We’re not even touching the inevitable withdrawal of the preschool mandate.) Is it simply a resistance to change on the part of the establishment, the normal dragging of heels? Or has the DOE inadequately vetted the changes and miscalculated the financial liability of the new requirements? Or is it a show of strength from Trenton finally intent on changing the culture of home rule and standing up to local opposition? Stay tuned.