COMMENTARY: New Jersey Educators Need a New Role Model and They’ve Got One in David Banks

The whole goal here is to prepare kids to be able to be college and workforce ready. A lot of times we talk about college readiness, but we don’t talk about workforce readiness for kids to have the skills to be able to come out and get good paying jobs as they graduate from high school, even if they decide to go to college. So we’ll be creating a whole body of work around that.

That’s David Banks, soon-to-be New York City Schools Chancellor under Mayor-elect Eric Adams, discussing his intentions to revise literacy instruction to focus on phonics; to “scale excellence” by replicating successful models; to “ensure that our kids have great teachers” (a nod to his Deputy-to-be, Dan Weisberg, former CEO of TNTP, known in part, for its seminal report on how school systems treat teachers like interchangeable widgets);  and his openness to incorporating an option of remote learning: “I would tell you that in listening to parents, it’s really important, I think, to provide some level of a remote option. Who said that all the kids should have to come to school every single day and sit in rows for 45 minutes from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.,” he asks the interviewer. “That’s the way we’ve been doing it for the last hundred years. We’re saying let’s look at a new normal, let’s create some new opportunities to do things a little bit differently.”

Banks also describes the outcomes of NYC Black and Brown students—65% aren’t proficient in reading or math–as a “betrayal” to them and their families, a result of our fundamentally “flawed” approach to teaching. We’re failing all students, regardless of race, because they graduate high school unprepared for successful working lives. The only way to correct this is with strict atttention to student growth and effective instruction; nothing is off the table at this critical moment.

Let’s compare Banks’ ambitions to have high school graduates ready for career and/or higher education with the recent proposal from the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education. In the Garden State, if the State Board of Education approves, we’re ready to change the meaning of a high school diploma from “college and career ready” to “high school graduation-ready,” a disingenuous bit of wordplay that downgrades standards and sets up students for failure. Case in point: DOE leaders asked the State Board to agree to a passing score for 10th grade reading and algebra that indicates “Partially Meets Expectations,” a nice way of saying “you failed.” 

But no problem! You get your diploma! Even though you’re years behind grade-level! 

(Side note: The DOE has given no indication that these passing scores, or “cut scores,” align with the ability to pass Accuplacer, the screening test administered by community colleges that determine whether a student has to take non-credit-bearing remedial courses, or the military entrance test, which determines whether a student can join the Armed Forces. Also, best practice is you don’t set a cut score for the pilot year of the test; instead, you wait and see how students do and then set the cut score.)

By dumbing down diplomas, we’re following the examples of Oregon, which just passed a law that says high school students do not have to prove they can read, write, or do math before they graduate, and California, which, in a  64 Floor-like scheme, is disallowing teachers from issuing “D” and “F” grades because they hurt students’ self-esteem.

Do New Jersey families really want the Murphy Administration to devalue high school diplomas so they represent represent seat-time? Do parents and students really want to end up paying (or taking out loans) for remedial coursework that accrues no college credit? Do they want to have a military-minded child barred from the Armed Forces because they can’t pass the entrance test?

I think they’d like the State Board of Education to challenge the lowball duplicity of the DOE and insist that  high school diplomas represent student readiness for whatever comes next.

The pandemic has given us all a scare–still is–and interfered with student mastery of basic concepts, even if you don’t live in Newark where only 9% of students met state expectations in math. So does that mean we give up? Does that mean we lower the bar? Does that mean we eschew innovation–now we’re elevating seat-time when research shows it’s “long been a weak proxy for measuring what a student has learned” –and ignore the pleas of parents for the option of remote instruction?

Come on, New Jersey DOE and State Board of Education members. Be New York City. Aim higher. Don’t keep our kids trapped under the ceiling of the 64 Floor. Honesty is hard but it’s better than a charade.

Laura Waters

Recent Posts

BREAKING: Chaos in Elizabeth As Community Calls Out Racism

Last night’s Elizabeth Board of Education meeting was raucous and chaotic, coming on the heels…

2 days ago

‘Doing Less Was Not an Option.’ How One New Jersey Charter School Kept Kids Learning No Matter What.

Note: Achievers Early College Prep is one of seven high-performing public charters with previously-approved expansions…

3 days ago

As Murphy ‘Relentlessly Assaults’ Charter Schools, Reviewers Take Note

The Center for Education Reform, a non-profit dedicated to expanding educational opportunities, just released its…

4 days ago

Camden Education Fund Leads Collaborative Celebration of Student Success

Last week the Camden Education Fund collaborated with Camden City, the traditional school district, and…

4 days ago

EXPLAINER: What Is the Charter Schools Program and Why Are Equity Advocates So Angry With Biden?

Today thousands of Americans are gathered in Washington D.C., protesting the Biden Administraton's gutting of…

4 days ago

Newark Mom Charges School Aide With Beating Her 7-Year-Old and Pushing Him Down a Flight of Stairs

Last month, say new charges, a teacher's aide assigned to students with disabilities pushed a…

5 days ago