How Bad are the Trenton Public Schools?

This bad: last night Superintendent Rodney Lofton gave a preview of this year’s state assessment scores and 68% of third-graders failed both language arts and math.

Part of the drop (last year only 35% of 3d graders failed language arts and 38% failed math) is because the State changed its definition of “proficiency.” For example, last year a 3d grader only needed to get 40% of the questions correct to get a passing grade in language arts and now he or she needs a 50%. For math, proficiency is described as 52% corrrect as opposed to last year’s 42%.

There were a couple of bright spots in Lofton’s report, but they're merely a glint against the gloom. Lofton also alluded to looming state spending cuts and the loss of current stimulus money, which will inevitably lead to programming cuts.

(Total cost per pupil at Trenton Public School District last year: $16,120.)

Where does that leave Trenton parents? They can look to charter schools, which have a mixed record. For example, Emily Fisher Charter School has a wretched record on test scores, though there are still 60 kids on the waiting list. On the other hand, International Charter School (we only have last year’s scores) are entitled to brag about their third grade assessment scores in language arts – only 16% of kids failed in language arts and only 11% failed the math portion. Actually, 16.7% of their third graders achieved “advanced proficiency” in math. There are 49 kids on the waiting list, but don’t hold your breath; total enrollment is 90 kids in grades K-5.

(Total cost per pupil at International Charter School: $13,838)

There's also Trenton Community Charter School. 43.7% of third graders last year failed the language arts portion of the state assessment and 40.8% of them failed math. Pretty grim, yet there are 69 kids on the waiting list.

(Total cost per pupil at Trenton Community Charter School: $11,875)

It’s not all about numbers, either state assessment scores or dollars per pupil. And, certainly, the devil's in the details: how many children in each school are classified as eligible for special education? How many English Language Learners? Regardless, Trenton schoolchildren are trapped in a failing school system, grossly inferior to the average Jersey school. (Statewide, 62% of 3d graders passed language arts and 75% passed math.)

Meanwhile, you can go several miles in every direction and land in a higher-performing district, but our local governance makes those schools inaccessible to Trenton's kids. How did we get back to separate and unequal?