“Dreams are coming true” for Newark’s district students, sang Superintendent Roger León at last week’s school board meeting, but that’s only if those dreams don’t include grade-level reading and math proficiency. While school buildings are open and enrollment is slightly up (by 700 students), results of the state Department of Education’s diagnostic tests show that pandemic-induced school interruptions have taken a large toll on learning.
According to data released at the board meeting, says Chalkbeat, “81% of fourth graders and 65% of eighth graders landed in the lowest score range on the math test, indicating that they need ‘strong support.’” This tracks with student outcomes on other standardized assessments last spring which found that only 9% of students in grades 2-8 met state expectations in math and only 11% met expectations in reading.
Chalkbeat,reports that board members had little response to León’s presentation of the test results; some had their cameras turned off the entire meeting. There was also no discussion of recently-reported problems with lead in the drinking water, “questionable uses of the district’s COVID-recovery money, or follow up on previous calls for the district to post COVID case counts online, which it still has not done.” (Twelve percent of Newark’s $282 million in emergency ESSER funds, intended to help students recover from learning loss and keep buildings open, is being used for items like floor polishers and inspirational videos.)
Meanwhile, Newark residents continue to demand more than they’re getting from León and the school board. Denise Cole suggested the board spend less time “giving each other accolades and more time publicly discussing the many difficulties students face as they try to rebound from the pandemic.” And Oscar James has launched a petition drive demanding that the district follow Biden Administration rules for deciding how to spend that $282 million by including the community in “meaningful consultation” because, says James, that cash infusion could be “transformational” for Newark students.
But first the lightbulb has to want to transform. If your dreams have come true already, why bother?