An Addendum to the Four Education Promises Gov. Murphy Can’t Keep

I have a piece in The 74 called “Four Education Promises New Jersey’s New Governor Can’t — or Shouldn’t — Keep.” If I had a time machine I’d ride back about two weeks (pre-deadline) and add a little more content to one of Governor Murphy’s promises, specifically the one he made to at the 2016 NJEA Convention (and other venues): When asked whether he’d follow NJEA’s instructions and get rid of assessments aligned with college/career ready standards, he said,  “I’ll give you the one-sentence answer: Scrap PARCC Day One.”

New Jersey isn’t the only state where a loud cohort of teacher union leaders, affiliated lobbyists, and (mostly) white, suburban parents are rebelling against annual assessments that show how much our kids are learning. New York is far more strident. While N.J.’s opt-out rate decreases each year as parents and students grow accustomed to the new tests, N.Y.’s opt-out rate, especially in well-to-do suburbs on Long Island, remains stable.

And so it’s noteworthy that, as Chalkbeat New York reports today,

A major makeover of the state’s English and math tests is not in the cards, top state education officials said Tuesday.

New York will not apply for a federal pilot program that would have allowed the state to experiment with different kinds of math and English tests for grades 3-8, officials announced Tuesday. Last May, the state indicated it would apply.

The decision — which was based on the state’s conclusion that developing new tests would be too expensive — largely shuts the door on major testing changes, such as having students complete projects or submit examples of their work.

Every state has to annually test students in grades 3-8 with a standardized test; that’s a key part of the federal law called the Every Child Succeeds Act, approved at the end of President Obama’s second term.  Governor Murphy has promised that his Administration would “immediately” replace PARCC with a new assessment that met those federal requirements but, if N.Y. is a bellwether, this plan is no more realistic than his promises to fully fund the school funding formula and the pension system. (See The 74 analysis for more on this.)

If creating a new assessment is too expensive for New York then it’s too expensive for New Jersey. Yet there is still much that Governor Murphy’s Department of Education can do to assuage educators and parents about accountability embedded in federal law that, after all, is designed to drive the nation towards more equitable and effective schools. Step One is to stop using “PARCC” as an expletive. It’s just a test, one that goes a ways towards bridging the honesty gap by more accurately reflecting student mastery of course content.  And our kids do better every year because each successive grade is more exposed to our updated Student Learning Standards, nee Common Core.

For now, let’s recognize the pressure Governor Murphy has been under from anti-accountability folk. Let’s also recognize that governing is a whole different ball of wax than campaigning. There’s little shame these daysin uninformed campaign promises designed to win votes; that’s the American way, for better or worse. There is shame, once elected, in pandering to lobbyists who would have us retreat from educational advances that improve student learning and district-to-district equity. If Phil Murphy is even half the progressive Democrat he says he is, he’ll prioritize the academic needs of children over the unscrupulous needs of adults.


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