Once again NJ political leaders and the NJEA are boasting about our State's gain of about 10 points in 2013 while the national average remained unchanged. New Jersey continues to be near the top among states, which supposedly indicates the superiority of our education system. I suspect, however, that once the details are in on these scores, we will see that the enormous chasm between our urban and suburban schools continues to grow. The fact that more and more urban schools are insisting and in some cases even requiring students to take the SAT, even though college may not be in their future plans, will contribute to this gulf.
The most troubling aspect of the articles I read on this "news item" was the chorus of administrators and government officials singing the praises of a college education for everyone; preparation for college has in fact become the de facto "purpose" of high school for all students, and this is simply a prescription for disaster in our urban centers. This mantra of college has led to a dearth of comprehensive programs designed to prepare inner city students for more appropriate career paths in the trades or as skilled employees in one of the many growing sectors of our economy. The more practical vocational, technical, and paraprofessional career paths provide realistic alternatives to college and should be an integral component of our urban high schools. Yes this sounds like tracking, and so what? The European school systems have pursued a similar system for generations with a great deal of success.
The preoccupation with college has corrupted our curriculum standards, corrupted our determination of what students must learn in high school, and corrupted our test for graduation. Until we refocus our time, energy, and resources into more appropriate uses in our inner city schools we will continue to fail our urban youth. These students are already dealing with the impediments created by the substandard physical plant and learning experiences they endure; now they must deal with education leaders espousing a direction filled with false hope and promises. Will our policy makers ever get things right??