Murphy and Repollet Want to Unlock Career Doors for NJ Students But They’re Getting Two Things Wrong.

Yesterday New Jersey Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet sent out a tweet celebrating the state’s new jobs initiative, “Jobs NJ: Developing Talent to Grow Business in the Garden State,” which will “ensure all New Jerseyans have the education & training necessary to access high quality employment.” A press release from the Governor’s Office adds,

“Here in New Jersey, we’re creating new pathways for success after high school,” said Dr. Lamont O. Repollet, Commissioner of Education. “Schools not only provide students with a world-class education, but more and more districts are offering pre-apprenticeship programs, career and technical education, and initiatives through which students earn industry-valued credentials or college credits while still in high school. All of this provides students with more options, and more opportunity.”

The full report promises that by 2025 “an additional 250,000 Black, Latinx, and Native American individuals attain post-secondary credentials.”

I have two concerns about this initiative, especially for NJ low-income students of color who, according to a report released last year called “LOCKED OUT OF THE FUTURE: How New Jersey’s Higher Education System Serves Students Inequitably and Why It Matters,” have a 30% lower community college completion rate than white students. 

First, a large part of the plan involves pre-apprenticeship programs, specifically Career and Technical Education (CTE) where high school or community college students take a sequence of courses to earn industrial certification in fields like construction, agriculture, cosmetology, health sciences, etc.. 

But, according to NJ Spotlight, New Jersey has one of the lowest projected needs for two-year degrees or less — i.e., CTE certifications. In fact, “only 26 percent of jobs created in the state require these types of degrees.”

My second concern regards implementation. If you’ve been following this blog (see the series here), you know that the DOE under the stewardship of Comm. Repollet has a habit of privileging grand pronouncements over meaningful strategy. So let’s look at how CTE works in Repollet’s previous post, superintendent of Asbury Park Public Schools.

According to Repollet’s very own DOE data, 174 students at Asbury Park High School last year — almost half  the school’s total enrollment of 402 9-12th students — enrolled in a variety of CTE programs. These are the types of students the new JobsNJ programs aims to serve: Asbury Park students are almost all black and Latino; 43% are economically-disadvantaged.

How many Asbury Park High School students graduated last year with an “Industry-Valued Credential”? 

Zero.

Also, as I reported here, a 2015 audit of Asbury Park’s CTE programs found that “the district is offering a variety of electives without regard to sequencing for program completion.” In other words, students are signing up for a CTE program but graduating without certification because the district fails to offer the full sequence of required courses.

Dr. Repollet also touts JobsNJ’s intent to have students graduate with college credits and, in fact, Asbury Park High School offers 6 AP courses that almost 12% of students enroll in; to receive college credit you generally have to score a 3 or better on an AP exam.  How many students at Asbury Park High School last year passed their AP tests and graduated with college credits?

Zero.

Yet these are precisely the students JobsNJ intends to serve.

New Jersey needs to improve public educational opportunities for students, particularly low-income students who are disproportionately black and brown. And there’s nothing wrong with an ambitious program that strives to address our inequitable system and improve chances at gainful employment. But tweets and press releases are worth a hill of beans to students like those at Asbury Park High School where only 39% were enrolled in any sort of post-graduate program after high school, compared to a state average of 73%. (An additional 14% enrolled later on.)

All this for a  total annual cost per pupil of $42,382

Meanwhile, at charter schools that serve the same demographics — for example, TEAM Academy Charter School in Newark — 78% of students were enrolled in post-secondary programs 16 months after graduation. Yet currently charter expansion, which primarily serve low-income students of color, is subject to an apparently indefinite moratorium because Gov. Murphy — and, by extension, Comm. Repollet — are beholden to NJEA. A report issued yesterday found that “attending a Newark charter school has a larger effect than 80% of other educational interventions that have been recently studied using an experimental design” — including the very initiatives that comprise JobsNJ, “ pre-apprenticeship programs, career and technical education, and initiatives through which students earn industry-valued credentials or college credits while still in high school.”

This is not that hard. We know what works. We’re not doing it because of the political power wielded by NJEA leaders over Murphy’s educational agenda. In the meantime, students like those at Asbury Park High School are indeed “locked out of the future.”

What do you think?

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