Monday, September 12, 2016

What A Difference A Year Makes

By Julie Borst, NJ BAT

Originally published on her blog:

A year ago, I wrote about a student's 8th grade class schedule in a Newark middle school. You can read that post here. It was also later picked up by Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post. The Newark schedule was in stark contrast to what schedules look like in suburban and wealthier districts throughout the state.

This was his 8th grade schedule:

The parents, both from multi-generational Newark families, and their son, struggled with the lack of variety within the school day. I would characterize that schedule as oppressive. How can children thrive on a day that looks like that? I know lots of people will think (and feel free to rail against me for suggesting otherwise) there's nothing wrong with a monotonous day filled with English language arts and math. That art, gym, chorus, music, languages, etc. are for those who "deserve" it and not for students who live in a place where high test scores are the only thing keeping their local schools open. 

At the end of last school year, the parents made the very tough decision to leave their city, their home, behind and head for the Jersey shore. Yes, they were fortunate to be able to afford to do so. Not everyone is in that position.

What their son experienced in 8th grade was enough for them to say no more. They wanted him to have history and language every day. They didn't want him to have double and triple periods of any class. They wanted him to have gym more than twice a week. They wanted him to have access to electives. No more, frankly, than what any parent wants for their child. Why did they have to move to get it?

Here is his schedule this year:

So, why does Newark have such a narrowly focused curriculum? They are still under state control after more than 20 years. As I've said, any current problems in that district lay squarely on the shoulders of the state. It's disgraceful that all the state provides is a bare minimum of classes, clearly aimed at achieving nothing more than maybe higher standardized test scores. Is this really what the NJ Department of Education believes is a "high quality" education? 

I'd love to know what Kimberley Harrington, the soon to be crowned Acting Commissioner of Education, will do to make sure the children of Newark (and every other state controlled district) receive an enriched curriculum these parents had to move elsewhere to get. 

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