Asbury Park Public Schools District had its monthly school board meeting last week. One item jumped out at several staff members who, in turn, pointed it out to me:
Recommend Board Approval for the purchase of English 3D licenses for grades 7-12 English. 3D is specifically designed to support progressing English learners at various stages in their English language development so that they will have the tools needed to meet the challenges of the heightened expectations through grade level progression. Additionally, the content, routines and portable language functions in English 3D aligns with key tenets of rigorous English Language Arts (ELA) and English Language Development (ELD) standards across the four language domains of speaking, listening, writing and reading. Program includes individualized student licenses, supplemental materials and professional development sessions. Total Cost: 78,280.00 Account Number: ESSERIII 20-487-100-300-074-20 ($25,000) Title III 20-241-100- 600-074-20 ($10,110) HS SIA 20-235-100-300-010-20 ($43,170.) (Janice Kroposky)
What is so interesting about this humdrum purchase of instructional material for English Language Learners?
First, English 3D is a product of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), a for-profit company worth $2 billion. Asbury Park has a long history of throwing bundles of cash at HMH in exchange for various perks like posh conventions and good press. For instance, in 2016 HMH released a “case study” of how its products had dramatically improved the literacy rate in Asbury Park. “While the $3.4 Million price tag might look steep on paper,” boasted then-superintendent Lamont Repollet, “there’s no price that’s too high for an intervention program and professional learning that works district wide.”
This pattern of patronizing HMH started with Repollet’s superintendency (he left in 2018 to become Gov. Phil Murphy’s Education Commissioner and is now President of Kean University) and has continued through Repollet’s chosen successors. Sancha Gray, who now works in Repollet’s Kean office, was superintendent in Asbury Park from 2018-2021. Current superintendent Rashawn Adams, a favorite of Repollet, was chosen in 2021 though mysterious circumstances by the School Board, who decided it wasn’t necessary to do a typical superintendent search and didn’t bother interviewing anyone else.
I have nothing against HMH–they have some great products— yet I don’t buy district leaders’ insistence that using this vendor is resulting in increased reading and math proficiency rates across Asbury Park. According to the state database, in school year 2018-2019 (using pre-COVID numbers to be fair), 17% of the district’s students were meeting proficiency benchmarks in reading and 0% were in math. (The state redacts very low numbers to “protect student privacy” so it’s somewhere below 10%. ) Is that 17% rate better than previous years? Barely. In 2015, 2016, and 2017 reading proficiency hovered between 15% and 16%. (Math is still redacted.) Is that worth $3.4 million?
But English 3D is specifically for ELL students in grades 7-12, who have even lower proficiency rates in reading—12.3%. Sure, they need all the help they can get and maybe that $78,280 is a bargain. How many kids will benefit from this cutting-edge program?
I did some back-of-the-napkin math. According to the state database, 9.4% of Asbury Park students are ELL. The total 7th-12th grade enrollment is 663 students. If 9.4% of those students are English Language Learners, that comes out to 63 students. So the cost of the program is $1,242 a student.
That’s a lot of money. If the program really benefits ELL students, then it’s worth it. Yet it’s worth pointing out that Asbury Park has been using HMH reading programs for ELL students for six years without meaningful improvement. So why did Adams recommend this purchase to the School Board?
One clue might be the administrator in charge of this initiative, Janice Kroposky. She is listed on the district website as one of the three Supervisors of Curriculum and Instruction. (Most districts this size have one, but Asbury Park is #1 in its peer group for the ratio of administrators to faculty and students.) Kroposky is also a member of what the staff call “the Repollet Tree”–-the inside group who really run Asbury Park—and was one of Repollet’s esteemed guests on his infamous trip to Ghana , which was advertised as an opportunity for students but was actually a freebie (until it wasn’t) for Repollet acolytes, plus his wife and two children.
Repollet may be in Union County but this Monmouth County district is still all him.