Now is the time for the state to step forward and issue three challenges, challenges focused on outcomes and students. For instance, scrap efforts to award high school diplomas to anyone who is 18 and with a pulse and ensure that a NJ high school diploma means more than an attendance certificate. Figure out what is working in places like Newark and replicating those programs and initiatives in other struggling urban centers. Implement a real strategic plan for charter school expansion across the state. Even figure out the best practices that can be learned from the Abbott Schools, and apply them in other schools (without the promise of big dollars).Sounds good, and Riccards’ first suggestion – stop giving a high school diploma to anyone “who is 18 and with a pulse” -- is already underway, thanks to the DOE out-sourcing the scoring of our Alternative High School Assessment. (Of course, just about every kids failed, which led to protests, concessions from the DOE (see this memo from Deputy Commissioner Willa Spicer) and a new round of scoring. The challenge is not revising our graduation process; it’s copping to the fact that a significant cohort of 18-year-olds go through NJ public high schools and can’t pass a middle-school level test. Only then can we have any meaningful discussions about measuring high school achievement, or lack therof.)
Charter school expansion? Sure. Thousands of kids sit on waiting lists and NJ added exactly one new charter this year. (Word is that 10 more have been approved.) That would bring our grand total up to about 80 across the state. For comparison’s sake, New York City alone has 100.
It’s a challenge to separate “lessons learned from the Abbott schools” from “the promise of big dollars." Full-day free preschool for all needy kids scattered all over the state, not just in 31 urban districts, was planned by Corzine and then scotched when the economy took a nosedive. Once again: county preschools, anyone? Twenty-one, one for each county, housed in our special services facilities, serviced by the well-staffed offices of Executive County Superintendents, efficient and integrated. Home rule be damned.