This past weekend the Asbury Park Press published an analysis that ranks most of New Jersey’s school districts on student proficiency gauged by results from last spring’s grades 3-8 state assessments. As journalist Joe Strupp notes, low-income districts tend to have lower proficiency rates: the top-rated district, Rumson, has an eye-popping median household income of $222,237. Yet to no one’s surprise (at least among NJ Ed Report readers) Asbury Park is at the bottom, ranking 425th out of 425 districts in math and 436th out of 436 for English language arts. When asked for comment, Asbury Park Superintendent Rashawn Adams got defensive, claiming “we are making every effort to allocate our existing resources to improve student achievement” while pointing to recent state aid cuts.
Can all student achievement data, then, be tossed in the trash, an inevitable result of family wealth?
That’s what Adams, the Murphy Administration’s Department of Education, NJEA leaders, and other “progressive” interest groups would have you believe. That’s why an NJEA rep told the NJ Joint Committee on Public Schools that NJ’s system of standardized testing is “antithetical to educational equity.” That’s how Gov. Phil Murphy’s first Education Commissioner, whose previous position was Asbury Park’s superintendent, justified the “64 Floor,” a system that dismisses actual student achievement in the name of dismantling structural racism.
I decided to check. What’s another South Jersey district with a high number of low-income students of color? Are cellar-level academic proficiency levels truly predetermined by family income? Let’s try Lakewood.
There is a demographic overlap between the two districts, besides their tendency to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Both skew low-income: the median household income in Asbury Park is $54,676; in Lakewood it’s $53,517. According to the state database, 50% of Asbury Park students are economically-disadvantaged and in Lakewood it’s 87%. Both enroll primarily Black and Brown students.
But Lakewood’s student outcomes are far better than Asbury Park’s, despite higher levels of poverty. According to the Press, Lakewood ranks 318th in third-grade reading proficiency; Asbury Park ranks 428th. In fifth-grade math Lakewood ranks 271st while Asbury Park ranks 425th.
So what’s going on? Is it state funding aid, which Adams refers to?
Nope. Here’s a data point for you: Asbury Park’s annual cost per pupil is currently $27,977, the highest in its peer group. Lakewood’s annual cost per pupil is $15, 204. In other words, Asbury Park spends almost twice as much per pupil as Lakewood for worse student results.
And there’s this: You can tell something about a school culture by the level of chronic absenteeism, which means missing 10% or more school days during a year. In Lakewood the chronic absenteeism rate is 25%. That seems high—until you look at Asbury Park’s. There, it’s 51%. More than half of district students are chronically absent.
Asbury Park Mayor John Moor thinks the problem is district mismanagement: “More administrators than any district of that size in New Jersey, totally top heavy, ridiculous spending,” he said. “It is killing the city.”
I don’t know about the city but the educational philosophy of Murphy and Asbury Park School Board appointees is certainly killing academic outcomes for students.
Nice work on this comparison. Administration are a major problem that few people talk about when it comes to the “system.”. The more money that is coming out of the spigot (as in Asbury Park), the more admin greed/corruption takes over, and the worse the problem becomes. School boards—although nominally in charge— are incapable of fighting this long term because bloated admin has the real power. The later silence, bully, demonize anyone who asks basic questions: young people, parents, taxpayers, board members. I say this as a former Vice Chair of a school board for a district with high poverty and high per pupil revenues (Sun Valley ID-area), same as Asbury Park.
Many people don’t realize that state “school boards associations” are also part of this parasitic system and exist to “train” school board members to shut up, cheerlead admin, and pass levies. I put “school boards associations” in quotes because it is a misnomer—they actually work to disempower school board members thereby further locking in the power of admin. Admin put “school board association” fees on the school board “consent agenda” for rubber stamping. A quick look at these associations will show that they are filled with people making more than teachers and sometimes more than superintendents.
Charter schools can help break system of corruption, but not if their performance is narrowly tied to test scores. There is a reason our democracy is faltering, and I would put the mind-numbing (literally) bureaucratic institutions run by bloated admin, that pass for “education” at the heart of the problem.