Update on Firings at the NJ Department of Education: Staffers Respond

There’s been much interest in my post ten days ago about the firing of 40 staff members from the state Department of Education. Since the post went up I’ve received numerous emails from staff members, some who were fired and some still there. All  requested anonymity. Here’s a summary of what I’ve been told.

In a sign of the personal and/or political nature of the firings, several days later the DOE put up postings to refill the positions. ( Here’s the link.) 

People seem divided on whether NJEA was a key player in Commissioner Lamont Repollet’s cleanng of the house. Several noted that top people at NJEA and local bargaining units anticipated receiving DOE jobs once Governor Murphy was elected. Another wrote that “it’s not just the NJEA” but that “this is a highly political administration without regard for the best interest of students.”

Two emailers pointed to Asbury Park Public Schools’ most recent QSAC review. (Repollet had been superintendent at Asbury Park before Murphy named him Commissioner. QSAC is the state’s triennial evaluation of district performance, governance, fiscal health, etc.) According to these staffers, Repollet was infuriated that the state’s review of Asbury Park’s functionality — much of this task was performed by members of the Office of Comprehensive Support, which bore the brunt of the firings —was less than stellar.

I can’t find Asbury Park’s most recent QSAC report. The district website has a link to the 2014-2015 report but the link is dead. The district does post its budget for 2019, which lists the per pupil costs as $28,060. News reports vary on Repollet’s leadership. This Asbury Park Press article notes the progress made by Repollet:

By many accounts, he’s running a tight ship. Under Repollet’s leadership, every staff member will be held accountable and every student will have a chance to succeed, he said. “The Asbury Park School District will no longer be the worst school district in the state,” Repollet said. “That is not acceptable by me.”

This editorial written by an Asbury Park parent claims that “incidents of violence… surged by over 1,900 percent under Superintendent Lamont Repollet but were dismissed by him, along with any criticisms of the schools, as ‘alternative facts.’ As a parent, I was in disbelief witnessing the toxic politics, which deny the harsh realities faced by children in this school system.”

Without the state’s QSAC evaluation all I can go on is student growth and performance, depicted in the DOE’s School Performance Reports. The most recent data shows that 15 percent of high school students either met or exceeded the bar for proficiency in English Language Arts, compared to a state average of 55 percent. For high school math, the fields are marked with an asterisk, which means “data is not displayed to protect student privacy.” In other words, hardly anyone met the bar for proficiency. The state average is 43.5 percent. (Hey! No wonder he hates PARCC! Sort of kidding.)

I did look at elementary school proficiency — seems only fair; he wasn’t Asbury Park supe long enough to have much impact on high school students — but the scores aren’t any better. At Barack Obama Elementary School, 15.8 percent of student made proficiency in ELA and in math the fields are, again, marked by asterisks.

Another writer says, “A few people were in a meeting with him last week discussing the testing and he said that one of the reasons he wanted to reduce the tests was that he didn’t think it was good for the self-esteem of students to keep failing test after test, that they already knew that they would fail. … and the idea took my breath away.” Are our expectations so low that we assume our students — particularly our students of color who comprise almost all of Asbury Park’s enrollment — are incapable of academic proficiency and that New Jersey’s large achievement gap is unbreachable? I read this and was stunned and sad.

That’s your update for today. Thank you all for writing. As this Administration seems to double-down on decreasing accountability, it’s so important to highlight the political and educational implications of what George Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” We can’t fall for that. Not again.

Update on Update: A correspondent pointed me to this link, which shows the data suppressed in Asbury Park’s School Performance Reports. Regarding the suppressed math scores for 2016-2017, 5.5 percent of students achieved proficiency, a truly dismal showing. Of course, proficiency scores don’t reflect growth from year to year but N.J. accounts for that through Student Growth Percentiles (SGP’s), which measure how much a student improves his or her state test performance from one year to the next compared to students across the state with a similar score history. Asbury Park’s SGP results show that student growth has slowed when compared with similar students. In ELA, median SGP’s in Asbury Park are 38.5 and in math they’re 30. That’s extremely low. Note that Asbury Park failed to submit its rate of chronic absenteeism to the state for 2016-2017. Finally, Asbury Park’s high school graduation rate ranked 279th out of the 285 high schools in the state.



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