Here’s a parent of a high school student enrolled at Asbury Park High School:
"I am so done with that district," said Phyllis Ling, who is concerned about whether her daughter, a senior, is college-ready. "(Teachers) should be highly qualified to teach these kids the fundamentals of reading."
That’s from the Asbury Park Press’s analysis of the long-term failures of the Asbury Park School District. The School Board, the Press reports, just approved a $3.4 million package to purchase Scholastic reading programs because “nearly three out of four children…are reading below grade level." New Superintendent Lamont Repollet explained, "I can't improve test scores, my kids can't think critically, my kids can't comprehend if they can't read.”
Graduation rates from Asbury Park High School just fell to 49%, worse than districts with similar demographics like Camden and Newark and Trenton. Half the high school students can’t pass the basic skills HSPA test in language arts (just replaced by PARCC) and more than half failed the math HSPA last year.
There’s a plethora of reasons for the Monmouth County district’s failure to educate its 2,000 students. The demographics are challenging: 91.6% of students are economically-disadvantaged. Then there’s the administrative turnover: “Asbury Park has had five superintendents and seven directors of curriculum in the past six years or so. With each administration came a new reading program or curriculum for the district to learn, school officials said.”
But the failure has nothing to do with money or resources. The State funds each Asbury Park students at an annual per pupil cost of $33,109, the highest per pupil cost in the state. There’s a state monitor to provide oversight and, according to the D.O.E. School Performance Report, one teacher for every seven students and one administrator for every 86 students, well beyond ratios in comparable districts. For example, in Trenton Public Schools the ratio of students to teacher is 12:1 and the ratio of students to administrator is 217:1.
Meanwhile, NJEA assails the state’s failure to fully fund the school funding formula (NJEA Treasurer Sean Spiller: “Once again, the governor has shortchanged the school funding formula – this year by at least $1 billion – bringing the total shortfall to schools to more than $7 billion) and Education Law Center “warn[s]that the Governor’s budget, if not rejected by the Legislature, will mark six years in which students are deprived of teachers, support staff and other essential resources provided by the SFRA formula.”
But Asbury Park's students' deprivations have nothing to do with money, with a lack of "teachers, support staff, and other essential resources." They're deprived by their relegation to a long-failing school district where the answer to educational dysfunction -- general illiteracy, an 8.5% drop-out rate, SAT scores of 342 in reading and and 363 in math -- is purchase of a reading program.
On the homepage of Asbury Park Public Schools' website is a link to an "action plan" designed by the current superintendent's predecessor, Denise Lowe, dated 2011. From the plan:
Asbury Park is becoming a successfully "turned-around‟ school district characterized by an ambitious set of reforms, new leadership, and the efficient use of new resources etc. The new leadership has moved quickly to support the implementation of this ambitious set of reforms.
The action plan also remarks on two issues that impede student instruction:
- The Varying Quality of Teachers. Most principals described “push-back” from members of their faculties about the number, scope and consequences of the initiatives that they are now supposed to implement. Some amount of distress is understandable and predictable. The principals who have recognized the inevitability of (transitional) complaining accept it as a continuing challenge. Other principals side with their teachers and hamper progress.
- Principals and Their Faculties. More than one of Asbury Park‟s principals volunteered a job definition that included “keeping teachers safe”, or “protecting teachers from the central office and accountability”. That raises the question of what those principals are protecting their faculties from – the new curriculum units? The teacher appraisal process? The online lesson planning? Providing protection from those wholesome initiatives may make the principal popular but it is dysfunctional and preserves the inadequacies of the district‟s past, for example, the principal who said that student achievement was not important in measuring teacher quality.
Now, Scholastic's $3.4 million reading program may be just great. But that purchase is not likely to overcome more intractable problems -- teacher "pushback" and principal "dysfunction" that "preserves the inadequacies of the district's past" -- that have impeded student achievement there for decades. How long do Asbury Park students have to wait for meaningful reform? For Phyllis Ling's daughter, who may or may not be prepared for life after high school, the clock's run out.
Labels: achievement gap, DOE, school funding