It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. What Does New Jersey Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet Think of Teachers?

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A week ago our Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet testified before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. I wrote about this last week, noting that in response to a question from Senator Declan J. O’Scanlon, Repollet conceded that he did indeed institute a “64 Floor” at Asbury Park High School when he was superintendent there. The “64 Floor,” which I heard about from multiple current and former staff members, ensures that no student can fail a class. (See here for a full explanation.)  

Why should a school leader have a policy that disallows failing grades? For Repollet, it appears that the reason is his low expectations for both students and teachers.

And here we are a week later and it’s Teacher Appreciation Week.

What is your Commissioner’s view of the 111,000 teachers in New Jersey? It was hidden in clear sight during his chat with Senator O’Scanlon. The Senator mentions that news of the “64 Floor is out there simmering” (thanks to brave current and former staff members at Asbury Park School District) and wonders “whether we’re serving these kids well, whether we’re serving taxpayers well, that we’re investing their dollars in a way that best serves these kids, that gives them the best shot at a long and prosperous life coming out of school.”

Comm. Repollet’s answer is long. You can read most of it here.  I want to focus on his rationale for the necessity of a 64 Floor, which disallows teachers from failing students (and artificially raises graduation rates).

Repollet tells O’Scanlon,

When I go back and talk about equity I’m going to tell you why a Floor is needed. Because at times grades can be used to weaponize. It’s a power thing.

Sometimes if you don’t like a child whatever, and I may get in trouble for saying this, if I don’t like the child then guess what, I can give that child a zero. Because if I give Lamont a zero, how will Lamont pass my class, he would every time have to get 100, he would have to be perfect.  What message as educators are we sending to our kids if we tell them we have to be perfect.

So when you have The Floor you kind of take away the power of teachers to weaponize grades and it becomes a fairer system. At Carteret [High School, where he was principal] I instituted a Floor. At Asbury Park I instituted a Floor because it needed to be equitable across the board.

Is that what he thinks of the hard-working, talented, compassionate teachers at Asbury Park and all of New Jersey? That they use grades as weapons for the degradation of children? I spoke to one teachers at Asbury Park who pays out of his/her own pocket for extra supplies and snacks for hungry kids. I spoke to another who mourns that policies put in place by Repollet (and continued under his hand-picked replacement Sancha Gray) forces teachers to socially promote kindergartners suffering from trauma (homelessness, PTSD, foster care) and denies them an additional year “to get their footing.”

Throughout this process of uncovering child-unfriendly moves at the DOE, I have never spoken to a teacher who “weaponizes grades.” I have never spoken to a teacher who would “give Lamont a zero” out of spite.

Maybe villainizing teachers is how he justifies the fact that 11 percent of third-graders at Barack Obama Elementary School are reading at grade level, that the percentage of eighth-graders proficient in math at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School is left blank in the DOE database because the number is so low, and only 15 percent of eleventh-graders at Asbury Park High School are proficient in reading.

Here’s the thing: Those Asbury Park students are graduating high school wholly bereft of, as Senator O’Scanlon put it, a “best shot at a long and prosperous life.” The primary reason for that dreadful outcome is not lack of equity (although, of course, that’s a past and present danger).  It’s not that teachers are on some sort of malicious power trip and use grades like uzis.

It’s leaders’ low expectations, made concrete through schemes like the 64 Floor. It’s the subversion of teachers’ best judgements, epitomized by Repollet’s Director of Special Education Carolyn Marano, whom he brought with him to the DOE to do further damage. It’s the privileging of loyalty over competence.

Here’s a final question: I’d like to know if  New Jersey Education Association leaders, so enamored of Murphy and Repollet’s focus on lowering academic standards and meaningful accountability, have anything to say in defense of the 111,000 teachers they claim to represent.

If I were a New Jersey teacher, I’d want to know if NJEA leaders will call out Repollet for his contemptuous attitude towards educators. So I’m asking for them.

What say you, NJEA leaders? Do you place the higher value on the political submissiveness of the Governor and Commissioner or on the reputation of your members? I know quite a few teachers who are waiting for an answer.

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