Two of our favorite towns made the news today: Moorestown and Willingboro of Burlington County. They’re nine miles apart, but seem to exist in alternate universes (except for the fact that both towns voted down their school budgets: stories here and here).
If you live on the right side of the tracks in Moorestown, you get a school district where every school made Adequate Yearly Progress. If you live on the wrong side of the tracks in Willingboro, you get a district where the high school hasn’t made AYP in 5 years, the middle school hasn’t made it in 4, and half the elementary schools are listed as Schools in Need of Improvement. In Moorestown, 98.3% of the seniors graduate through the HSPA, the regular 11th grade test, and only 2.7% fall back on the SRA, which is the alternative assessment used for kids who fail the HSPA 3 times. In Willingboro, 48% of the kids pass the HSPA and 39.5% get their diplomas based on the SRA. In Moorestown, average SAT scores for math, verbal, and essay were 581, 564, and 555 last year. In Willingboro the average scores were 409, 416, and 412. In Moorestown, 21% of 11th and 12th graders took AP courses (342 kids) and in Willingboro 2.4% of 11th and 12th graders took AP courses (19 kids total, which is better than last year when 1.2% took AP courses).
It’s the money, right? They must be spending more per pupil in toney Moorestown, must have smaller classes, better technology. Hardly. Cost per pupil in Moorestown is $13,318. Cost per pupil in Willingboro is $13,892. (D.O.E. data here.)
Why the litany? Because these two districts are an object lesson in what’s wrong with the way we educate kids in New Jersey. Should an accident of geography determines a kid’s academic path?
Yes, we’re being reductive. Moorestown’s District Factor Group (socio-economic ranking) is I on a scale of A through J. Willingboro is listed as a DE. The minority population in Moorestown is about 10%; it’s 75% in Willingboro. Fine. Wealthy families flock to Moorestown for the bucolic vistas and great schools. One of the reasons Willingboro’s budget went down was because the public couldn’t square any tax increase with a decreasing population. People vote with their feet. But should a public education system segregate kids through ethnicity and poverty? Is there an ethical dimension to our affection for home rule?
New Jersey is riddled with Moorestown/Willingboro educational polarities; you can replicate the division of opportunity in every county. Does that make it right?