Children across New Jersey are struggling to read. Yet the state expects young children to master the confusing and convoluted tenets of gender ideology.

In urban areas such as Newark, New Jersey, mid-year reading test scores paint a grim picture. Students started the school year alarmingly behind, and the Newark Public School system predicts that fewer than 10% of students in second grade will meet state English standards this year. Only 6% of fifth graders will be proficient readers by the end of the school year.

Almost all students are failing to learn math in Newark schools. Only 1.9% of fourth graders are expected to master math state standards this year, and fewer than 6% of the district’s students from grades three to seven will be considered math proficient. Newark is a famously failing school system, despite the millions donated to the system over the years. Before COVID-era policies closed school doors, however, a quarter of the students were meeting standards. 

Newark students returned to classrooms this school year, although the district reverted to remote learning in January; but testing that monitors student growth throughout the year reveals they are not making the expected progress. The learning loss is proving too difficult to overcome, even though the district has received $283 million in emergency federal education funding since the beginning of the pandemic. 

State and local school boards in New Jersey and beyond should listen to parents and stop sacrificing children’s interests to their political agenda.

The state’s academic crisis extends beyond Newark, despite the $6 billion in emergency federal education funding funneled into the state. Across the state, Strong Start testing in fall 2021 revealed that 49% of fourth-grade students — 74% for Black students and 70% for Hispanic students — received the lowest possible score in math. The testing found that 42% of New Jersey fourth graders tested at the lowest level in reading. 

New Jersey elementary students cannot read well, but the state board of education expects seven-year-olds to, “list medically accurate names for body parts, including the genitals,” as part of the new health and physical education curriculum standards. The standards will go into effect this fall, and school districts are identifying curriculum aligned to the standards. 

One recommended lesson plan for students in second grade instructs teachers to give students Post-it notes labeled clitoris, urethra, vulva, vagina, anus, penis, urethra, scrotum, testicles, and nipples. “For each one, read the name on the Post-it note out loud and then have the volunteer place the label on the diagram next to the body part that corresponds with it.” 

Children who have barely been in classrooms during their elementary school years are not yet familiar with the most basic vocabulary words; introducing detailed anatomy lessons at such young ages in the midst of an academic crisis reveals that the state’s public schools do not have their priorities straight. To confuse children further, the lesson instructs them, “Being a boy or a girl doesn’t have to mean you have those parts.”

The gender ideology-infused lesson plans also instruct young students to “define gender, gender identity and gender role stereotypes.” By the end of the “Thinking Outside the (Gender) Box” lesson, fifth grade students should able to define, “sex assigned at birth, gender identity, cisgender, transgender, gender nonbinary and transgender” and “differentiate between a person’s gender identity and gender expression.” Elementary students in New Jersey who lack basic academic skills because an already failing system closed schools for a significant portion of their childhood should not be wasting time on recently-created vocabulary lessons provided by activists.

Parents and state legislators are understandably questioning the rationale for these state standards and recommended lessons. During the pandemic, parents discovered the extent that activism distracts from academics. They are eager to reorient schools back to what matters. They want their children to learn to read and acquire math skills, rather than be drilled on gender ideology terms and concepts.

Although Gender Spectrum is often the source of K-12 gender ideology materials, Advocates for Youth created the lessons used by New Jersey school districts. 

The organization’s 3R lessons reflect, “a spectrum of gender, gender identities and expressions and sexual orientations.” According to the organization’s website, over 100 school districts serving over two million students use their lesson plans. The website details lesson plans provided to Florida, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, California, and Louisiana. 

State and local school boards in New Jersey and beyond should listen to parents and stop sacrificing children’s interests to their political agenda. Schools must focus on the academic and learning loss crisis they have created. State standards and recommended lesson plans should prioritize accurate academic instruction, rather than proselytize gender ideology.