The Philadelphia Inquirer just reported that the NJ DOE has bowed to pressure and agreed to eliminate Algebra II from the list of new high school requirements proposed with great fanfare by the High School Reform Steering Committee. In addition, the DOE is backing off on some of the science requirements and the “personalized learning plans” that were supposed to be in place in all districts for all 6th-12th grade students.
We applaud the DOE’s openness to the concerns of parents, districts, and educators. There was already a lot of evidence that the High School Redesign Team had overreached, both educationally and politically. For example, the Education Law Center, which represents Abbott districts, charged that poor urban children were being “marginalized” by unreasonable expectations (see their paper “NJMissteps” here) and Dr. Joseph Rosenstein, Mathematics Professor at Rutgers and Director of the New Jersey Mathematics Coalition, argued persuasively last April in a Star-Ledger editorial that the NJ High School Redesign Committee was bamboozled by Achieve, Inc. , a national organization “whose perspective and conclusions the Redesign Committee accepts unquestioningly,” and that what students need “is not more algebra, but better algebra – not Algebra II, but a thorough understanding of Algebra I – and a better grasp of the utility of mathematics.”
You can decide for yourself. But it’s almost besides the point. The DOE has spent the better part of the last two years frenetically issuing new mandates, regulations, curricula, adequacy formulas, high school graduation requirements that standardize our sprawling school system. Why? Because the State Court, in Abbott v. Burke, issued an equation – call it Abbott’s Law. Abbott’s Law states that regardless of poverty level, social issues, environment, or parental support, all is equalized with money. Ergo, once cash distribution is equalized, academic achievement is equalized. Cash = Academic Success.
Now the DOE is trapped within a flawed equation. So are taxpayers.
Here’s an unadorned fact for you: in Paterson, the average 9th grader reads at a 4th grade level. Could some of those kids, given supports and services, catch up and pass Algebra II? Sure. Could all of them? Doubtful. The DOE, in withdrawing the most ambitious parts of the High School Redesign, just acknowledged this fact and, in doing so, passed their own judgment on the Court’s innumerate equation.