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NJ105 has just put out a list of the 30 “best” and “worst” public schools in New Jersey. The team there collated the data based on results from the spring standardized assessments, graduation rates, and “school quality,” which they chose to measure as chronic absenteeism rates (missing 18 school days per year or more).
Let’s look at the 10 best and worst schools, based on NJ105’s metrics, with a few editorial comments thrown in.
Best 10 Schools in New Jersey
- Luther Lee Emerson School in Demarest (Bergen County), where the average home costs $1 million and median household income is $200,000, a tiny school (grades 2-4) where almost everyone is white or Asian and no one qualifies for free or reduced lunch.
- Infinity School in Jersey City, a magnet school where admissions is based on “grades for the past two years in five core subjects (reading, writing, math, social studies, and science), recommendations from three teachers and one administrator, attendance record from the current year, Preliminary SAT 8/9 (PSAT 8/9) scores, and extracurricular activities.” Compared to demographics in Jersey City non-magnet schools, enrollment at Infinity is far more white and Asian.
- High Technology High School in Monmouth, one of the most selective and elite magnets in the state where students are accepted based on grades, test scores, and teacher recommendations; 94.5 % of students are white or Asian and a mere 2% qualify for free or reduced lunch. For more on New Jersey’s exclusionary, elite magnet schools, see here.
- Tory J. Sabatini School in Madison, a K-5 school, where most students are white or Asian and 4.6% are economically disadvantaged. (We’ll leave aside whether you can compare small elementary schools with large high schools.)
- Harrison Elementary School in Livingston, almost all white and Asian. How many kids in this K-5 school qualify for free or reduced lunch? One percent.
- Southern Boulevard School in the “School District of the Chathams,” which serves students K-3. Same demographics as Harrison, including 1% of economically-disadvantaged students.
- Walter Stillman School in Tenafly, K-5 and the same demographics as Harrison and Southern Boulevard schools.
- Monmouth County Academy of Allied Health and Sciences, another highly-selective magnet school. If you didn’t take algebra in 8th grade, you have to take it the summer before you start, if you can get through the admissions process.
- Deerfield Elementary School in Mountainside, K-8, which is mostly white and Hispanic. One percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
- Manito Elementary School in Oakland, overwhelmingly white and Asian (although 2.7% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch).
Ten Worst Schools in New Jersey
- Freedom Prep Charter School in Camden, which the state closed down because it can do that with public charters demonstrating poor student outcomes and high chronic absenteeism rates. Why is it on this list?
- Daylight Twilight Alternative High School in Trenton, which has 350 fewer students than it did three years ago. It serves disengaged students, and adults who dropped out previously, not quite the same demographics and level of need as elite magnet schools.
- Forest Hill School in Camden, which, okay, is terrible. Kids are way below grade level and the chronic absenteeism rate is an appalling 80%.If this were a charter school, the Department of Education would shut it down.
- Speedway Avenue School in Newark, almost all Black and poor, and where 17% of kids can read at grade level and none can do grade-level math. The DOE can’t shut it down (and, anyway, who would face Superintendent Roger Leon’s wrath?) so it’s on a list of schools needing “Comprehensive Support,” one of 25 in Newark.
- School 13 in Paterson, all Hispanic and poor, where students are not learning to read or do math. However, in 2018 the DOE removed it from Comprehensive Support status because it met some opaque metric.
- Senator Frank Lautenberg School, also in Paterson, where the DOE leaves the fields blank for reading and math proficiency because the scores are so low.
- John Costley Middle School in East Orange, Black and low-income, terrible student outcomes, and a chronic absenteeism rate of 35%.
- Lead Charter School in Newark, which is designed to serve “young people 16-21 years old who are not participating in school or the workforce.” But let’s compare it to elite magnet schools that cream off top students in our wealthiest counties.
- Joan Pearson Elementary School in Delanco, where student outcomes are poor (although I’m not sure why it’s on this list).
- Buckshutem Road School in Bridgeton, which is probably on the list because it has a 20% chronic absenteeism rate (although, for instance, Asbury Park’s Martin Luther King Upper Elementary School has just as low scores and a 35% chronic absenteeism rate).
Everyone loves lists and I understand why 101.5 chooses to spend so much time on this. Yet next year it might want to reconsider its definitions for “best” and “worst.” Maybe this sort of exercise could convince New Jerseyans how regressive our system is of offering access to high-performing schools only to families who can afford hefty mortgages and sky-high rents. Stronger and fairer New Jersey? Not so much, and perhaps an explanation why, based on current polling, three out of four Black parents, who are disproportionately low-income compared to white and Asian families, support charter schools, vouchers, and open enrollment systems.