New DOE Data Out

The NJ Department of Education has posted the 2009-2010 School Report Cards, and just about everyone’s covering the release. See here for Star-Ledger , NJ Spotlight, The Record, Asbury Park Press, Courier Post, and Press of Atlantic City. The general consensus is that test scores are uneven and costs are up, though less so in poor urban districts. If you’re a glass-half-full person, then revel in the information that our high school kids improved slightly in language arts and cost per pupil dipped in Newark and other urban districts. If you’re a glass-half-empty person, mourn that middle school scores are down, one out of six high school seniors failed the qualifying math test, and most districts spend more than $15,000 per pupil.

Or maybe you should put down the glass. Both NJ Spotlight and the Star-Ledger suggest that the data is “suspect” in the context of national spending because most states include pricey but non-instructional items like transportation, food services, pension payments, health benefits in publicly-accessible databases, and NJ doesn’t. From the Star-Ledger:
"The data are not completely accurate," said [Education Commissioner Chris] Cerf, who was appointed in December and is awaiting Senate confirmation. "They under-represent and drastically understate the per-pupil cost, and I’m committed to doing a better job on this in the future. These data need to improve."
Example: the DOE Report Card database lists Newark’s average comparative-cost-per-pupil as dropping from $19,058 in 2008-2009 to $13,833 in 2010. But the Newark Business Administrator says that “actual spending was $18,894.”

As long as we’re dealing with educational absurdities, take a look at At Avalon Elementary School, pointed to by the Star-Ledger as the most expensive school district in the state. According to the DOE, there are 77 kids in the grade 1-8 school (maybe there weren’t any kindergarteners last year?), with a high of 13 kids in eighth grade and a low of 5 kids in sixth grade. Comparative cost per pupil is $35,882.

The Star-Ledger quotes chief school administrator David Rauenzahn, who defends the cost because “student achievement in Avalon... is very good and residents support their schools.”

Damn straight they do.