The Trenton Times reports today on the trial of Priscilla Dawson, a Trenton Central High School principal accused of altering transcripts of 126 students who attended an annex of the school, one of the many scandals that have rocked this rock-bottom district over the last few years. Also implicated in this particular case, currently before the Office of Administrative Law, is James Lytle, the former Superintendent in Trenton who cut and ran last year to take a professorship in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania (the State is going after his Superintendent’s License) , and two other administrators still employed by Trenton Public Schools.
Trenton is one of the 31 Abbott districts in New Jersey. This means that this central Jersey city, long-plagued by gang violence and economic woes, has achieved the lowest possible socio-economic rating (the State calls it DFG, or “District Factor Group”) and shows evidence of systemic educational failure. The Abbott Decisions mandate that the State fund these districts at the average rate of schools ranked in the highest DFG, reasoning that educational inequities are solely based on the amount of money available for each student. Non-Abbott districts rely mostly on property taxes for school costs. Abbott districts rely on State money. So, in Trenton, cash abounds. Education doesn’t.
A look at the State report card for Trenton gives a glimpse of the grim prospects for kids unlucky enough to attend school there. All 11th graders in New Jersey take a standardized test in math and language arts – the HSPA. In math, for example, the average failure rate across the State was 24% in 2006 and 26.6% in 2007. How about Trenton? In 2006, 68.8% of eleventh grade students failed the math portion of the HSPA. In 2007, 79.8% failed.
Bop down Route 206 about ten miles and you’ll arrive at Trenton’s neighbor, the bucolic school district of Princeton. Same state, same standardized test, and (per the Abbott decisions) similar funding. Yet in Princeton, 7.2% of the kids failed the math portion of the HSPA in 2006 and 9.5% failed in 2007.
Memo to State hacks: it’s not working.
Meanwhile back in Trenton, the courts slog through a multitude of administrative bumbles, which include running a high school without any (mandatory) science courses, forcing kids to retake courses they had already passed, and enrolling tenth graders in ninth grade. The befuddled School Board (one of only 21 districts in the State where Board members are appointed by the mayor) is trying to revoke Dawson’s lifetime tenure and the defense is arguing for dismissal on procedural grounds (the school board, according to Dawson’s lawyer “didn’t obtain proper signatures for the tenure charges”).
If the goal here is to make educational opportunities equal in Princeton and Trenton, we've got a long way to go.