Newark Teachers Say Principal’s Ban on Failing Students Is ‘Hurting Kids’

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It appears that the principal of Newark’s Central High School, Dr. Sharnee Brown, is taking lessons from former New Jersey Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet. For those out of the loop, when Repollet (now President of Kean University) was superintendent of Asbury High School, he created a system called the “64 Floor” which prohibited high school teachers from giving any student a grade below 64 on any quiz, test, or project. The result: No student failed a class and graduation rates soared, the reason Gov. Murphy said he selected Repollet as his commissioner. 

Now teachers at Central High are similarly barred from failing students, according to Patrick Wall of Chalkbeat. On January 10th, 770 students (that’s almost every student 9-12) received 2,000 failing grades. Two days later Central High teachers were presented with a new rule called “NO F & Missing Grade MANDATE” and given these new guidelines:

 

Miraculously, 1,200 F’s disappeared from high school transcripts.

Wall was able to get Central High teachers to speak anonymously (in order to avoid retaliation). Here are a few of their comments:

“In the long run, I think we’re hurting the kids”

As educators, “you help students as much as you can” to earn passing grades. “What is extremely upsetting is that, when students are a no-show, we’re being told: No Ds or Fs.”

“If a kid only hands in two assignments, how do I justify giving him a C? To me, that’s not helping anybody.”

“It’s crystal clear, it’s not ambiguous. Even if that kid doesn’t show up, you have to find a way that they don’t fail.”

Parent Kanileah Anderson, whose daughter attends Central High, said that “students had ample opportunities to make up work and get tutoring. “I don’t agree with, ‘we’re not going to fail anybody,” she said. “It just sends the wrong message.”

Ron Chaluisan, former high school principal and head of the Newark Trust for Education, noted that the pandemic and attendant remote instruction (Newark is fully remote) means that teacher need to be flexible but that doesn’t mean barring “F’s.” “I think there are things you still have to hold kids accountable for,” he said.

One could add that principals should be held accountable too, especially in a school like Central High where almost all students are low-income and of color, where the school has a long history of failing to provide students with the tools they need to be successful. 

Examples: Currently NJ has two high school diploma-qualifying tests, 10th grade reading and Algebra 1. According to the most recent state data (school year 2018-2019), 17% of Central High graduates were able to pass 10th grade reading. There is an asterisk for Algebra 1, which means “data is not displayed to protect student privacy.” In other words, almost no student passed Algebra 1. Average SAT scores are 394 in reading and 383 in math. These scores are below an 8th grade level proficiency.

The vast majority  of Central High students were in trouble long before Covid-19. Will this new “NO F & Missing Grade MANDATE” help them or hurt them?

Again, we return to Repollet’s 64 Floor, which he successfully implemented statewide by lowering standards for all students. At the time, Senator Teresa Ruiz, Chair of the Senate Education Committee, asked him,what kind of data will we be getting to our families and to our teachers and to our principals, to make sure there’s a remediation plan that protects that child?” She also said these practices were the antithesis of “good education policy.”

Will someone tell the Central High principal to stop demeaning the academic abilities of New Jersey’s students and the effectiveness of their teachers? We’re all smart enough to tell the difference between pretense and reality.

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