Yesterday we badgered Governor-Elect Christie to address the paucity of school choice for kids stuck in chronically failing districts by expanding charter schools and our moribund interdistrict choice program. Here’s why.
Willingboro School District is once again in the news because Superintendent Thomas C. McMahon, installed this past January, has apparently taken another job in West Essex. We say “apparently” because, according to the Burlington County Times, he has not actually notified the Willingboro School Board, although West Essex has already posted a letter on its website that confirms the hire. Just call it another slap in the face to this struggling district. Here’s the bleak picture: Willingboro High School is in its 6th year as a School in Need of Improvement (SINI) according to NCLB. A whopping 37% of kids pass the HSPA, the high school proficiency exam. (It’s an 8th-grade level test.) 63% of the total population was suspended school during the last year. Average SAT scores for combined math and verbal are 800. Willingboro’s Levitt Middle School is in its 5th year of SINI status. 64.6% of 7th graders failed the ASK7 in Language Arts. In Willingboro’s DFG of DE (socio-economic ranking with A the poorest and J the richest), 26.9% of 7th graders failed. In math, 71% of Levitt 7th graders failed. Compare this to other districts in their DFG where 34.6% failed.
You get the idea. Willingboro is a chronically failing district so dysfunctional that its superintendent doesn’t even bother to inform them that he quit.
And here’s where it gets really nasty. Willingboro is one of 41 school districts in Burlington County, According to the last census there are 423,394 inhabitants within its 805 square miles. Big place. There’s got to be educational alternatives, right? No. Burlington County’s first charter school, Riverbank, opened its doors this past September in Florence Township with 108 kids in grades K-2. That’s it for charter school options.
How about our interdistrict choice program? With 41 school districts, some of them very fine, you’d think some small portion of kids stuck in Levitt Middle School or Willingboro High could extricate themselves. Here’s the rub: the program specifically limits the number of receiving districts within each county to 1. In other words, only one district can volunteer to accept out-of-district students. In Burlington County, that district is Green Bank, a K-8 district with a DFG of A (the most impoverished category) with a grand total of 69 kids. It’s hard to know how well the kids do there because there’s so few of them there’s not enough to constitute a cohort. Much of the DOE data is blank. Oh – the annual cost per pupil in Green Bank is $20,062.
There’s no school choice in Willingboro. There’s really no school choice in all of sprawling Burlington County. It’s time to change that.