DOE Veteran Talks About the Current State of NJ’s Education System

Decades of state takeovers of school districts and education reform movements have resulted in new curricula and new standardized tests, but the same old results. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently asked a 40-year state department of education veteran Richard Ten Eyck what’s not working.

Ten Eyck: One of the things I think we’ve lost sight of is we have a tendency now to confuse schooling with learning and we see people trying to get better at schooling, and it may very well be at the cost of learning. That seems to be something that’s be proven illusive and we’ve got distracted by a number of other things.

Williams: You used Newark as an example of the inadequacies of our education system. How so?

Ten Eyck: I think the issue there is that, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve confused doing the right thing with doing things right. In Newark we’ve had a whole progression of trying to do things right without going back and looking at what the root causes might be and how we might tailor solutions to the real problem.

Williams: How do you do things right? Can you be specific? What are we doing wrong that we should change?

Ten Eyck: I think what we’re doing wrong is that we’re making an assumption that people in Newark, that the teachers and people in Newark can create experiences for kids that are sufficient to overcome the challenges that they have in their home lives and in their community. And that’s not true in Newark and that’s not true in most urban centers in the country.

Williams: We had to have some standard by which students — and teachers for that matter — can be assessed. When you were with the Department of Education did you think standardized testing was in the best interest of students?

Ten Eyck: Yes, I did. I’ve been involved in various forms of assessments since the time I was a teacher and I always thought that assessments were a critical part of figuring out whether or not kids were learning as they were supposed to learn, or what I or someone else thought they should learn. Over the 40 years that we’ve seen since the 70s and the implementation of the first standards and New Jersey assessments what we’ve seen is we’ve continued to try to find a formula that makes that work, and that hasn’t worked yet. That means to me that we probably should stop investing in things that continue to be failures.

Williams: What do you make of the new PARCC exams?

Ten Eyck: I think they’re a continuation of the same process that hasn’t worked previously. We’ve dressed them up with the assumption that they’re going to be more rigorous and require deeper levels of thinking. At the same time the process of tying those things to high stakes decisions such as student graduation and or teacher evaluation muddies the waters considerably. I think the tracks from the use of the data to help kids and teachers figure out ways to improve the learning.

Williams: What needs to be done to shake up the education standards that we have?

Ten Eyck: I think we have to go back and start to ask some serious questions about why we have kids in schools at this point in time. Schools as we know it is essentially designed by people in the 1890s and it has changed very little over time and I think we have lost sight of the fact that in my view and I’d say others is that the purpose of education learning should be to help kids learn how to learn things, learn how to do things and learn how to be in this time in our development and what we’ve done is reduce that to the notion that the test score of math and language arts.

Williams: Okay, Richard Ten Eyck thanks for being with us.

Ten Eyck: Thank you very much, Mary Alice.