N.J. education board moves toward high school reform

In math wars on February 19, 2009 at 12:11 pm

N.J. education board moves toward high school reform

Posted by cjrothma February 18, 2009 17:04PM


Gov. Corzine’s plan to beef up New Jersey high schools with more math and science moved a step closer to reality today when it was granted a key preliminary approval by the state Board of Education in Trenton.

With a handful of protesters maintaining new tests will leave urban kids even further behind, the board unanimously approved reforms that won’t be fully implemented until 2016. In addition to more specific science and math curriculum, the reforms introduce additional, more-rigorous subject tests required for graduation.
Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-LedgerDepartment of Education Commissioner Lucille Davy in a 2007 file photo.

“This is about opportunity for all kids, for every child to have opportunities to go to college or not be forced to take a job that is low level because he or she wasn’t prepared properly,” said Education Commissioner Lucille Davy. “We’ve done our best to ensure that every child is prepared for the 21st Century work force and/or college.”

The approval sets up a 60-day period of public comment with a final vote in June. But reforms in the state’s 300-plus high schools will be gradually implemented over about seven years, with each new test added separately and results examined to see how children fare.

Part of a national movement that argues the United States is falling behind in preparing its children for the jobs of tomorrow, the new standards strive to teach more problem-solving skills and technology. The Department of Education also publicly unveiled several key changes in its plan today to give districts flexibility to increase rigor without leaving children behind in emerging fields.

The changes eliminated requirements for schools to teach chemistry as a third year of science and Algebra II as a third year of math. Instead, schools will have the option of offering chemistry, environmental science or physics and a yet-to-be-designed third year of math drawing on various disciplines.

While it would be difficult for any educator to oppose raising standards, the discussion touched on some of the controversies underlying the reforms. Board members pronounced themselves satisfied with the state’s pledge to keep a close eye on everything from how districts prepare teachers to adapt to the changes to the gap between white and minority students.

“As we move forward, if we see the gap closing, we will know we have done a great service to children of color,” said the board’s vice president, Arcelio Aponte. “If it widens, I hope we will immediately take a look.”

Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer immediately agreed, but some parents in poor districts are already concerned.

“Some of our schools are just getting by now,” said LuElla McFadden, president of a parents group in Jersey City. “Now they’re going to add more tests they know the kids can’t pass. It’s going to increase the drop-out rate and violence in schools from sheer frustration.”

Davy insisted, however, the state is doing a better job of preparing disadvantaged children for the challenges of tomorrow. She noted the aggressive pre-school program underway in the state’s 30 poorest districts and insisted the only way to spur more progress is to raise standards.

“All kids are born with the ability to do it,” she said. “They must be continually challenged, and expectations need to be high. If your child is in second or third grade and you think they are going to fail, how do you know that? And if they’re in ninth or tenth grade, they won’t have to take this test anyway.”

State efforts to raise standards got off to a rocky start this past spring, however, when passing rates for fifth and sixth graders dropped dramatically after the state raised the bar for passing the tests. In some poor districts, upwards of 70 percent of fifth graders failed language arts, for example.

Davy said then that raising the bar will help identify students who need more help preparing for the rigorous training to come.

There has long been acknowledgement that New Jersey schools produce some of the nation’s brightest scholars. But the spectrum is broad. In support of the reforms, education officials have trotted out embarrassing statistics showing nearly half the students entering some four-year public colleges here and even more entering community college require remedial training.

In addition to math and science, the reforms also require districts teach students enough civics, personal finance and economics to participate in the democracy and the work force. It also seeks to redesign high schools into smaller “learning communities” and do a better job of coordinating both elementary schools with secondary schools and high schools with the state’s public colleges.

Currently, high school students must pass language arts and math tests to graduate. The math test will get tougher and a biology test added, but no time table has yet been set for those requirements.


  1. And the campaign against it is well underway. Leading the charge is the Concerned Math Educators of New Jersey, launched by Mr. Fuzzy Math himself, Joseph Rosenstein. And who was one of the first to endorse the CME’s statement against the new, rigorous draft NJ state math standard? Our own Daniel Ilaria, Supervisor of Mathematics, Ridgewood Public Schools. Thanks Dan.

  2. Bridgewater-Rartian’s K-6 Math Program Evaluation recommended replacing Everyday Math with Harcourt HSP Math 2009 in the 2009-2010 school year. Harcourt is not a reform program. This is 180 degree turn for Botsford’s former district.

    Here is the link to their study. http://www.brrsd.k12.nj.us/files/filesystem/K-6%20Math%20Program%20Evaluation.pdf

    This report is over 200 pages, and doesn’t have much good to say about TERC and Everyday Math. One goal was to align with the National Math Panel’s report. It will be interesting to see what Ridgewood’s Math Planning Team recommends.

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