NJ’s Field of DreamsMarch 4, 2009
Headline of the DayMarch 5, 2009
A Star-Ledger editorial today pans the DOE’s new high school graduation requirements:
Education Commissioner Lucille Davy insists all children are born with the ability to learn and must be “continually challenged.” It’s an admirable notion. Unfortunately, not all children get the same start. That’s why raising standards amid serial failure in the state’s urban school districts is a bad plan. Neither education officials nor advocates for better schools have offered a better one, other than requests for more resources and more time.
The editorial also cites an Abbott district advocate, Stan Karp of the Education Law Center, who points out that in urban districts more than 70% of kids in poor urban districts already fail the middle school assessments. The Star-Ledger’s conclusion? More stringent graduation requirements will widen the achievement gap between suburban and urban districts.
They’re right. The logic in this editorial is that not all kids can pass a college-prep program under current instructional and cultural norms, which flies in the face of No Child Left Behind’s goal to have all children proficient in every subject by the time they graduate from high school. So, what do we do? It’s politically unpalatable to concede that not all children are capable of or inclined towards rigorous coursework. It’s also politically unpalatable to close the achievement gap – that holy grail – through dumbing down the curriculum.
There’s no way out of this collision of reality and dogma. Some kids will survive the new DOE academic boot camp. Some kids will flame out for reasons of economic deprivation, disability, crappy schools, lack of resources or parental support. The irony is that No Child Left Behind and NJ’s high school reform are intended to create equity for all kids, give them all a shot at high academic achievement. But, under current circumstances, the result may lead to higher drop-out rates and dimmer prospects for children.
The Star-Ledger doesn’t get into a lot of detail about how to extricate ourselves from this doomed enterprise, merely mentioning that,
Education officials need to focus on improving instruction in those districts before trying to hold the students to higher standards.
The allusion to raising teaching standards as opposed to testing standards is provocative. In other words, it’s not the kids, it’s the teachers. Too simple to be true, but it does cause one to wonder if the DOE’s dogma includes closing the achievement gap among our best teachers and our worst ones.