Braun Gets It Wrong

Bob Braun of the Star-Ledger is currently in high dudgeon over criticisms of NJ’s poor urban school districts, taking umbrage at “Newark bashing” by Gov. Christie, Harlem Children’s Zone’s Geoffrey Canada, Mayor Cory Booker, and, yes, Oprah Winfrey. In yesterday’s column Braun refers repeatedly to the conclusions of the Schott Foundation’s recent report that asserts that Newark has the highest graduation rate for black males of any city in the country.

Look a little more closely, Bob. The Scott report does indeed profess that
Black Male and White Male students in New Jersey graduated at higher rates in 2007/8 than the national average, that for Black Male students approaching the national average for White Male students. The racial achievement gap is significantly narrower than the national average despite the extraordinary graduation rate of White Male students in the state.
Here’s what the Schott report left out: the legacy of NJ’s now infamous Special Review Assessment, which awarded high school diplomas to kids unable to pass middle-school level tests. To our credit we’ve just replaced the SRA with a more rigorous test (the Alternative High School Assessment), but in 2007-2008 administrators were permitting vast numbers of poor children, particularly Black males, to bypass proficiency tests, artificially inflating our graduation rate. (Until last year we were the only state in the country to offer an alternative exercise for graduation to students without disabilities or ELL.)

Here’s a few examples: last year 53% of Camden High School’s students received high school diplomas based on SRA results, as did 53.8% of Trenton Central High’s seniors, as did 59.1% of East Side High seniors in Paterson. In Newark specifically, 45.6% of West Side High’s seniors graduated by virtue of the SRA, 45% at Malcolm X Shabazz High, and 41% at Weequahic High. (DOE data here.)

Other Newark high schools do better – both traditional public and charter public. But the Schott Report’s failure to factor in the impact of the SRA undermines its conclusions, and is a flaccid saber to rattle at pro-charter forces in Newark and elsewhere.