Lifeline for Trenton Central High?

In yesterday’s Trenton Times Drs. James Deneen and Carmen Catanese propose a three-part fix for Trenton Central High School, one of NJ’s most dysfunctional educational establishments.

1) Partially restructure TCHS by opening two alternative high schools.
2) Institute curriculum interventions to serve students who are not in the alternative programs.
3) Designate an educational leader from outside the Trenton School District to work closely with TCHS's administrators and teachers.

In other words, the system is broken and needs to be completely reinvented. Statistics support Deneen and Catanese’s claim: according to NJ DOE data, 55% of kids fail the language arts HSPA and 78% fail the math assessment. A scant 48.3% graduated high school through the standardized test, while 48.1% had to resort to the Special Review Assessment, a diploma back-door administered to kids who fail the HSPA three times. Average SAT scores are 374 Math, 382 Verbal. 30% of the school population was suspended during 2008. Cost per pupil? $16,532 per year.

There’s another public high school in Trenton, Daylight/Twilight High School, which makes TCHS look good. At Daylight/Twilight, with a drop-out rate of 58.4%, not a single pupil graduates through the HSPA; every student uses the SRA. A glance at the HSPA data shows why: 73.7% fail the language arts assessment and 90% fail the math assessment.

Deneen and Catanese look to Newark as a model, noting that it "has opened five alternative high schools this year, several operated by outside contractors.” Key phrase: “outside contractors,” i.e., successful charter school operators. Gov. Christie has vowed to open 5-10 new charters by September. He’d be giving Trenton teenagers a shot at a meaningful education by targeting the high school population in Trenton for one or more of those slots. Another possible escape hatch for Trenton’s trapped kids: expand the embryonic Interdistrict School Choice Program which allows students to attend other districts within their county if that district volunteers to accept other students. In spite of the fact that Trenton is adjacent to much higher-performing districts (like Princeton) there is no “volunteer” among these schools so Mercer County is not included in the interdistrict choice program. Can we make Trenton Central High School a test case of applying education reform principles to a disenfranchised population?

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