What has the New Jersey Department of Education Planned?

Bill Michaelson's picture

It's not going to happen. And they know it.

What's not going to happen? Before I explain that, let's consider some history. Back in 2001, Congress passed a law that was nicknamed No Child Left Behind (NCLB). A simplified description of this law:

NCLB required all students, with very few exceptions, in all public schools to pass standardized tests issued by states every year, starting with the year 2014. If schools failed to meet these goals, they would be labeled as failures and subject to penalties such as massive reorganization or closure.

One might think that this was a noble, ambitious goal set by well-intentioned leaders. One would be equally justified, or more justified, to consider this a ridiculous mandate set by incompetent, or perhaps mendacious leadership.

There is a difference between a goal and an aspiration. It's fine to have lofty, or even unrealistic aspirations. But goals should be attainable. Most reasonable observers know that the mandates of NCLB were unattainable. In hindsight, it was an abysmal failure, but it should have been avoided.

Because the failure could so easily have been predicted, we should wonder about the motivation of those responsible for it. Were they monumentally naive or were there more sinister forces at play? I say: Both.

So today, are we still naive about what is attainable? NCLB was predicated on the assumption that academic success of this kind could be achieved solely by imposing accountability schemes on schools. In other words, simply demand what you want, and threaten to punish anyone that fails to deliver. Convenient, but unrealistic. Unless your goal was to punish and destroy.

PARCC-KU by Dan Masi

So now we have a proposal for graduation requirements for New Jersey high schools. See the passing rates for PARCC 2015 in the chart below. Once again, an aspiration has been declared as our goal. What is the real goal? The folks who came up with this requirement are not naive. We have many years of test-and-punish experience. There are no excuses for stating that we expect students to pass these tests at substantially increasing rates just because we require it.

It's not going to happen. And they know it.

Our leadership is not naive. The real, unstated goal is attainable: It must be to see a huge number of New Jersey students fail to earn diplomas. What else makes sense? No problem to have an underclass, so long as you are not in it! And there is money to be made in remedial education!