New Report on Middle-Class N.J. Public Schools: "Not as Good as You Think"

The Pacific Research Institute has a new report out called “Not as Good as You Think: Why Middle Class Parents in New Jersey Should Be Concerned about Their Local Public Schools.”* This message may be a surprise to those who follow messaging from advocates for status quo schooling, but not to those who pay attention to student outcomes. In an interview with the Washington Free Beacon, researcher  Lance Izumi remarks, “lots of middle-class parents think so and believe that education problems are limited to places such as inner-city Newark. Yet, based on a variety of indicators, many of these schools may not be as good as parents think they are.”

One of the best measures of local school effectiveness, of course, is how well children are prepared for life after high school. Izumi analyzed student proficiency levels in typical middle-class N.J. suburban school districts through a variety of metrics: N.J.’s old standardized tests (ASK and HSPA), the national tests called NAEP, and SAT scores, where a collective score of 1550 on all three sections is linked to college and career-readiness.  Read the whole report, but here are a few highlights:
The N.J. ASK and HSPA were “not rigorous exams” (that’s one reason why we switched to PARCC) and, thus,  produced “inflated proficiency rates.”  Izumi looked instead at SAT scores in 194 N.J. public high schools that had “predominantly non-low-income student populations.” Here’s the results:
All the data is available at the end of the report and Izumi examines some high schools in more detail. For example, here’s part of the discussion of Cedar Grove High School in Essex County. Cedar Grove, Izumi notes, was listed among the top 20 places to live in New Jersey by New Jersey Monthly.
Izumi concludes,
What this paper has shown is that on a number of indicators, many New Jersey students from non-low income families have achievement issues. Also, a significant number of New Jersey high schools with predominantly non-low-income student populations are not preparing students for probable success in college. On the NAEP exams, significant proportions of non-low-income New Jersey students fail to perform at the proficient level. Also, New Jersey trails top-performing Massachusetts in the proportion of non-low income students performing at proficiency on the NAEP.
So, as Ed Koch said, how are we doin’? Not as well as you think. But we're not alone. Izumi has done the same studies of middle class schools in Illinois, Texas, Michigan, and Colorado with similar results. This is not a Jersey suburbia problem: it's a national one.

*Full disclosure: I'm quoted several times in the report.