It’s like New Jersey is two separate countries, at least as I read my local papers yesterday. In the Trenton Times, Tricia Baker, a mom and teacher who resides in the Mercer County district of West Windsor-Plainsboro, describes how she and her neighbors“ began to build our children’s college resumes in kindergarten,” exposing them to a plethora of enrichment activities. By the time her son was a freshman at West Windsor-Plainsboro South High School he was so overworked and overstressed that he slept “only two or three hours per night.” She writes, “there is too much pressure and the expectations on many students are too high,” and poignantly expresses her concerns about suicide ideation and drug abuse.
Then I flip to NJ Spotlight and see that Newark Public Schools’ just-released PARCC scores: “didn’t provide a very flattering snapshot, to be sure, with passing rates as low as 5 percent on some high school math tests. The highs were just 28 percent in other sections, including Grade 7 language arts, while most passing rates were in the lower 20s and teens.”
Superintendent Chris Cerf (here’s his presentation) didn’t mince words in his report to the school board:
“These scores correlate to what we might have predicted based on other data, but they do reveal a very fundamental and indeed challenging truth,” Cerf said Tuesday night. “While roughly half of our students are demonstrating success or are very much in the game in approaching grade level expectations, what that means is roughly half are not.”
It’s only 48 miles from West Windsor to Newark but they really might as well be different countries.
The median household income in West Windsor is $137,265; the median household income in Newark is a quarter of that, $34,387. The percentage of economically-disadvantaged kids at West Windsor-Plainsboro South (where Ms. Baker’s son is enrolled) is 4.6%. The percentage of economically-disadvantaged kids at Newark Central High (where, by the way, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka was principal) is 86.7%.
At West Windsor-Plainsboro, 81% of students score 1550 or higher on their SAT’s (a measure of college and career readiness) and 94.2% get a 3 or higher on an A.P. test. At Central High 0% of students score 1550 or higher on their SAT’s and 3.6% get a 3 or higher on an A.P. test.
Suburban education lobbyists, like those who live in West Windsor (or nearby Princeton, the home base of Save Our Schools-NJ), declare that their children suffer from too much stress.The West Windsor-Plainsboro Education Association, for example, followed the prompts from NJEA and held a “Take the PARCC” night last winter in order to persuade parents to opt-out their overstressed kids, and similar events were held in well-heeled suburban Jersey districts.
But this condemnation of accountability based on the mental health of over-scheduled privileged students myopically effaces the needs of many poorer students who aren’t over-scheduled and over-stressed.
An article today in the New York Times describes the differences in child-rearing philosophies between rich and poor families, based on the results of a Pew survey:
Extracurricular activities epitomize the differences in child rearing in the Pew survey, which was of a nationally representative sample of 1,807 parents. Of families earning more than $75,000 a year, 84 percent say their children have participated in organized sports over the past year, 64 percent have done volunteer work and 62 percent have taken lessons in music, dance or art. Of families earning less than $30,000, 59 percent of children have done sports, 37 percent have volunteered and 41 percent have taken arts classes.
Especially in affluent families, children start young. Nearly half of high-earning, college-graduate parents enrolled their children in arts classes before they were 5, compared with one-fifth of low-income, less-educated parents.
Nonetheless, 20 percent of well-off parents say their children’s schedules are too hectic, compared with 8 percent of poorer parents.
Ms. Baker’s son suffers from over-scheduling. Most poorer students do not. The anti-test movement is built on a West Windsor-Plainsboro world view, not a Newark or Camden one. Should state testing policy pivot off suburban privilege or urban need? I’d argue for the latter.