Which is why this next story bugs the hell out of me:
Advocates for Children of New Jersey has been working on child poverty issues for a good long while, but only recently started focusing on K-12 education. They recently released a report - Newark Kids Count 2011 - which bemoans the poor level of reading achievement for 3rd graders in the city. The Star-Ledger's Jessica Calefati picked up the story:
Big surprise hearing that from His Reforminess, but whatever. ACNJ and Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson decided to highlight this "no excuses" educational philosophy by releasing the report at the school that has the highest Grade 3 test scores in Newark; and they made a point of letting us know which school has the lowest-achieveing 3rd graders:Two of every five Newark kids now live below the federal poverty line, a rate higher than it’s been in the past eight years. For a family of four, that means a median household income of less than $22,000 a year.City officials, however, said the sobering child poverty level is no excuse for the district’s low performance on state tests, which is also detailed in the report, called Newark Kids Count."These figures show we are undermining the ability of our families to provide for their children," said Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who has made job-growth in the city a priority. "But we cannot let poverty be an excuse not to educate our children at the highest levels."
It's worth noting that the comparison between Branch Brook and Camden Street schools can also be found on page 6 of the ACNJ report, so we know where both Anderson and Calefati got their information.Newark schools superintendent Cami Anderson noted that the district includes some schools with abysmal academic performance and others that are beating the odds, considering the city’s child poverty rate.At Branch Brook Elementary School, where authors released the findings of the Kids Count report, 85 percent of third graders are proficient. At Camden Street Elementary School, just 10 percent of third graders can read at grade level.Anderson said one of the most important factors in boosting achievement in spite of poverty is strong school leadership. Before the start of this school year, Anderson replaced more than a dozen principals she felt were not qualified."While I am daunted by the challenge of increasing poverty on our families and our system ... it comes down to leadership," Anderson said. [emphasis mine]
It's also important to point out that the way this excerpt is written strongly implies that Anderson has a problem with Camden Street's "leadership." Neither she, nor Calefati, nor the ACNJ report ever mentions any mitigating circumstances that may be responsible for Camden Street's poor showing.
Yeah, I'm not buying it either. Let's run the numbers:
Set aside the huge spike Camden Street had in 3rd Graders; it's painfully obvious that Camden Street is serving a very different population than Branch Brook. The school houses many children with autism, behavioral disabilities, mild and moderate cognitive disabilities... exactly the children we'd expect to see struggle on standardized tests.
Of course, anyone could have learned that serving these children is Camden Street's mission simply by visiting the school's website:
Camden's special needs program houses approximately two hundred students. These students live throughout the City of Newark, and are transported to Camden by bus. Opportunities for integrating classified students into a least restrictive environment are accomplished through inclusion and mainstreaming. Our goal is to meet the various needs of all. To accomplish this task, we provide students with whole group and individual learning experiences.
Academic success is the mission of Camden Street Elementary School’s staff. The strategy used to achieve this goal is through high expectations and realistic goals. High expectations are communicated to the students by the teachers letting them know specifically what they are expected to learn, and that they can learn. [emphasis mine]None of this is mentioned in ACNJ's report or Calefati's article. Maybe they didn't think it was important.
In Anderson's defense - and knowing how journalists work - Calefati may have made the juxtaposition between "leadership" and Camden Street on her own. But that juxtaposition leads us to believe that Anderson thinks the leadership is so weak there that it accounts for a 75% differential in third grade reading scores. Shouldn't ACNJ looked at this more closely before trashing the school's performance? Shouldn't Calefati have been more curious about the cause of the dichotomy? Shouldn't Anderson have defended her staff at Camden Street; a staff doing a tough but critically necessary job?
Look, I don't know either of these schools. I definitely think someone should take a look at Branch Brook and figure out why they are having the success they have. And it may well be that there is a problem over at Camden Street that needs addressing.
But platitudes about "leadership" don't tell us a thing, and the deserving children of Camden Street School deserve better from their superintendent, their advocates, and the press. Further, the staff of Camden Street are doing the work of the angels; unless and until someone can show a specific problem with their work, no one should throw these teachers under a bus.
ADDING: Laura Waters swallowed it whole without asking a single question. Of course.