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Newark students have suffered considerable learning loss from school closings and remote instruction during the pandemic, with only 19 % of third-grade district students passing the state reading test, a criticial benchmark for future academic success. According to much research, the most effective intervention is high-dosage, consistent tutoring, either one-on-one or in small groups. Yet according to new information from TapintoNewark, gleaned from an Open Public Records request, “15,803 Newark Public School students were recommended for tutoring last year, but only 1,938 actually attended, or 12% of those recommended.”
Tapinto notes that Superintendent Roger Leon has spoken at school board meetings about the importance of high-dosage tutoring, citing studies that show students need between 40 and 100 hours of targeted instruction to recover from COVID-induced learning loss
But when Tapinto reached out to the superintendent’s office for comment on the alarmingly low number of students showing up for tutoring, spokeswoman Nancy Deering “declined to specifically answer questions about why so few students are attending tutoring and what the district is doing to encourage more students to attend, saying that ‘students and their families are taking advantage of tutoring opportunities’ and that the tutoring ‘is having a positive impact.’”
That’s not true.
Tapinto points out that when Leon did a public presentation on state standardized test results, he claimed students who showed up for tutoring had higher scores, citing a two-point increase for those students. But Pearson, which publishes the tests, said a two-point increase is statistically insignificant.
Vivian Cox Fraser, head of the Urban League of Essex County is “dismayed that not much seems to have changed since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg donated $100 million to Newark schools over a decade ago,” and targeted the primary culprit as the district’s failure to solicit a “collective voice” from the community in how to allocate funding.
Children’s learning has been devastated by COVID. Parents, civic, corporate, and business leaders need to ensure that these resources are deployed in ways to mitigate the impact of COVID on children’s learning. Now all of the COVID funds have come in, parents still haven’t been consulted. The third-grade reading scores are a clarion cry that this is a crisis. Raheem can’t read.
In all fairness, the problem is bigger than Newark. One example: the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education has hailed its initiative to recruit 5,000 volunteers to provide high-dosage tutoring to students throughout New Jersey who suffered learning loss during COVID-19 school closures and remote instruction. Yet in March Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan confessed the DOE had only 400 tutors signed up, just 8% of its goal.
Fraser’s “dismay” that not much has changed since the state’s takeover harkens back to to what former Newark superintendent Chris Cerf said when the DOE rescinded its control of the district, allowing the school board to choose leaders:
“That is the moment,” he told me. “The biggest risk as we go to local control is that lurking in the background is a real transactional mentality. The first job of the superintendent is to say, ‘look, we hold in our cupped hands the lives of 55,000 students. We are going to protect them from the world of politics.’ Maybe people can behave differently in the realm of snow removal but we are different. The greatest test of the next few years is if the transactional. politics of Newark comes back. I am very hopeful that it won’t. Time will tell.”
Time is telling us Leon and the Newark School Board are not protecting students from transactional politics.