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:
- On the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), often referred to as the nation’s report card, many non-low-income New Jersey students fail to perform at the targeted proficient level. On the 2015 NAEP fourth-grade reading test, 43 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at proficient level. On the NAEP fourth-grade math test, 38 percent of non-low-income New Jersey students failed to score at the proficient level. On the 2015 NAEP eighth-grade reading exam, 49 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers, roughly half, failed to score at the proficient level. On the NAEP eighth-grade math exam, 42 percent of non-low-income New Jersey test-takers failed to score at the proficient level.
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.
- Of these 194 schools, 114 met the state target of 80 percent or more of seniors taking the SAT. Out of these 114 schools, 32 schools -- 28 percent or nearly three out of 10 -- had half or more of their SAT takers fail to score at or above the college readiness benchmark score of 1550. Thus, according to the SAT data, a significant proportion of predominantly non-low-income New Jersey high schools were not preparing at least half or more of their students for likely success in higher education.
- The median household income in Cedar Grove in 2013 was $94,069, which was 34 percent higher than the statewide median of $70,165. The 2013 median home value in Cedar Grove was $428,352, which was 39 percent higher than the statewide median of $307,700. At Cedar Grove High in 2014, just 6 percent of students were classified as socio-economically disadvantaged, and 87 percent of eligible students took the SAT. Yet, a very sizeable 61 percent of these test takers failed to score at or above 1550. The schoolwide average SAT score was 1517.
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.