We already know that, due to COVID-related school closures, New Jersey had some of the worst learning loss in the nation. Fewer than half of New Jersey students were proficient in ELA and only 35% in math on last year’s state tests. As a result, tens of thousands of New Jersey high school students are now set to graduate without being proficient in ELA or math. Tens of thousands of others are falling irreversibly behind and will likely never catch up. Research tells us that all of these students’ chances for success in life will be negatively impacted.
So what is Gov. Murphy doing about it? Next to nothing. Evidently, he would rather pretend learning loss never occurred — just like the NJEA, his biggest political supporter and a driving force behind school closures. After all, it would be an inconvenient talking point for a Murphy White House run.
It’s hard to reach a different conclusion. Recall that last year, Murphy unconscionably sat on state test results until public outcry forced him to release them. Thereafter, in December and with much fanfare, he announced his plan — the New Jersey Partnership for Student Success (NJPSS) — to recruit, train and field 5,000 volunteer tutors to help remediate the learning loss. But since then Murphy has been silent about learning loss and his plan to fix it. Notably, he left them out of his State of the State address. Now we know why.
According to a recent Star-Ledger article, Murphy’s plan appears to be dead in the water, just another in the long list of failures by his Department of Education (DOE). The article’s title says it all: “N.J.’s call for school volunteers is far from meeting its goal.” Acting DOE Commissioner Allen-McMillan revealed that the DOE has received only 400 applications for the 5,000 volunteers it hoped to have by December 2023. That’s less than ten percent.
The article then surveys education leaders around the state, all of whom confirm that the NJPSS is failing:
- Betty Ginsburg of the Garden State Coalition (a group of 100 school districts): “It’s not something most of my members are talking about, as so few details (and apparently so few individuals) are available.”
- Scott Taylor, superintendent of Union schools, said: “district officials had not heard anything from the [DOE] about the program.”
- David Jefferson, Sr., pastor of Newark’s Metropolitan Baptist Church (which ran a tutoring program during the pandemic) said he had not heard of the program.
- Oscar James II, former-Newark councilman and education advocate, said he had seen no ads or outreach for the program.
- Paula White of JerseyCan: “We have an implementation problem in education;” and “improvements in education require far more than publicity and good intentions.”
- Steven Baker, spokesman for the NJEA: “We have had concerns from the beginning about the viability of relying on volunteers …”
As Sunlight surmised earlier, it looks like the DOE’s entire effort amounts to setting up a website and running some social media ads. That’s it. No wonder no one has heard of NJPSS and few volunteers have signed up.
But even when volunteers do sign up, they are running into a wall of DOE dysfunction. The Star-Ledger quotes one volunteer as saying he or she filled out the application in December 2022 and only received a welcome email on February 23, 2023, which was then retracted. The applicant then received another welcome email, which was also retracted. So it’s pretty clear that even the meager amount of 400 applicants is not being processed through the DOE’s system. Which begs the question: when, if ever, will we see thousands of tutors out in schools helping students?
Where’s the urgency, Governor Murphy? The entire senior class of New Jersey’s high schools will graduate in the spring of 2023 without state-provided remediation for learning loss that your accommodation of the teachers unions allowed. And it looks very much like the Class of 2024 is going to miss out, too. That’s tens of thousands of students being given diplomas despite not being proficient in ELA and math. This is a shameful abdication of your duty to educate New Jersey’s children.
A governor who fails in his duty to educate New Jersey’s children is a failure as a governor.