study says...

Report: The state's "achievement gap" is narrowing, very slowly

PHOTO: Nell Gluckman
A graph using data from the Nation's Report Card shows the achievement gap of fourth graders on a national math exam.

A new report throws some cold water on optimism about the state’s black-white achievement gap, finding that while the gap is narrowing, it’s no different from the national average.

The findings were part of a report by the National Center for Education Statistics that examined racial achievement gaps for math and reading across the country. Relying on data culled from the National Assessment of Education Progress exam — also known as the Nation’s Report Card —  from the early 1990s to 2007, the report zeros in on the scores of the nation’s fourth and eighth graders.

On a national level, the study found that the reading achievement gap has slowly narrowed, but the math gap has not budged. Students’ scores have increased in both areas, but black students’ scores need to go up faster than whites’ scores in order for the gap to close.

“I think New York fits in,” said Stuart Kerachsky, acting commissioner of  the National Center for Education Statistics, on a conference call with reporters this morning. “Its gap is not significantly different from the average gap and it didn’t change in a significant way.”

Kerachsky also noted that New York’s achievement gap increased slightly between 2005 and 2007 for fourth graders taking math and reading exams. New data on the state’s achievement gap will arrive this fall, when the Nation’s Report Card is due to come out.

The most recent data, which comes from 2007, shows New York State’s racial achievement gaps nearly matching national averages. They are also quite similar to the averages in New Jersey, which has similar demographics. Connecticut, which also has regional similarities, has above average achievement gaps in both fourth and eight grades.

In 2007, black and white fourth graders across the nation had an achievement gap of 26 points on the math exam, just as they did in New York. For fourth grade reading, it was 27 points, whereas it was 26 points in New York. Gaps among eighth graders also mimicked the national numbers.

Looking back at older data from the early 1990s to the most recent information, it becomes more difficult to discern a distinct trend in New York.

For example, a graph of fourth grade achievement in reading shows an achievement gap of 27 in 1992, a gap of 37 in 1998, a gap of 24 in 2005, and then a gap of 26 in 2007.

“It looks like it’s just bouncing around and it’s not heading in one particular direction. It’s staying pretty flat,” said Howard Everson, a psychometrician at Fordham University.

Everson, who is the lead testing adviser to the New York State Education Department and an adviser to the federal government on its testing regime, said these fluctuations likely occur because of changes in the test’s samples. The Report Card exams in reading and math are given every two years to different schools across the country that volunteer for them.

In a statement released by the Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability, director of research and communications B. Jason Brooks said he was concerned that between 2005 and 2007, New York States’ gap widened slightly while the national gap narrowed.

“According to this well-regarded national assessment, and despite the claims of some education policy makers, New York has failed to effectively level the playing field for academic achievement,” he said.

Everson said that using the state data to cast judgment on New York City schools wasn’t entirely fair, as there’s no way of knowing how many city students are in the Report Card samples.

Still, he said he was skeptical of Mayor Bloomberg and chancellor Joel Klein’s claims to have significantly narrowed the city’s achievement gap.

“I think I would take the Bloomberg claims with a grain of salt because we just need more data,” he said.

Kerachsky said this was the first time the organization had included analysis of state data in its national report. However, it does not include information from all states, as a handful of states such as Montana and Idaho, do not have enough black students to produce a statistically significant sample size. The National Center for Education Statistics is currently working on a similar achievement gap study that focuses on white and Latino students.

Grade 4, math


Grade 4, reading


Grade 8, math


Grade 8, reading



Newark schools would get $37.5 million boost under Gov. Murphy’s budget plan

PHOTO: OIT/Governor's Office
Gov. Phil Murphy gave his first budget address on Tuesday.

Newark just got some good news: Gov. Phil Murphy wants to give its schools their biggest budget increase since 2011.

State funding for the district would grow by 5 percent — or $37.5 million — next school year under Murphy’s budget plan, according to state figures released Thursday. Overall, state aid for K-12 education in Newark would rise to $787.6 million for the 2018-19 school year.

The funding boost could ease financial strain on the district, which has faced large deficits in recent years as more students enroll in charter schools — taking a growing chunk of district money with them. At the same time, the district faced years of flat funding from the state, which provides Newark with most of its education money.

“This increase begins to restore the deep cuts made to teaching and support staff and essential programs for students in district schools over the last seven years,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, who noted that a portion of the increase would go to Newark charter schools.

Newark’s boost is part of a nearly $284 million increase that Murphy is proposing for the state’s school-aid formula, which has not been properly funded since 2009. In the budget outline he released Tuesday, Murphy said the increase was the first installment in a four-year plan to fully fund the formula, which calls for about $1 billion more than the state currently spends on education.

Even with Murphy’s proposed boost, Newark’s state aid would still be about 14 percent less than what it’s entitled to under the formula, according to state projections.

Murphy, a Democrat, is counting on a series of tax hikes and other revenue sources — including legalized marijuana — to pay for his budget, which increases state spending by 4.2 percent over this fiscal year. He’ll need the support of his fellow Democrats who control the state legislature to pass those measures, but some have expressed concerns about parts of Murphy’s plan — in particular, his proposal to raise taxes on millionaires. They have until June 30 to agree on a budget.

In the meantime, Newark and other school districts will use the figures from Murphy’s plan to create preliminary budgets by the end of this month. They can revise their budgets later if the state’s final budget differs from Murphy’s outline.

At a school board meeting Tuesday before districts received their state-aid estimates, Interim Superintendent Robert Gregory said he had traveled to Trenton in December to tell members of Murphy’s team that the district was “running out of things to do” to close its budget gap. He said the district wasn’t expecting to immediately receive the full $140 million that it’s owed under the state formula. But Murphy’s plan suggested the governor would eventually send Newark the full amount.

“The governor’s address offers a promising sign,” Gregory said.

Civics lesson

With district’s blessing, Newark students join national school walkout against gun violence

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Thousands of Newark students walked out of their schools Wednesday morning in a district-sanctioned protest that was part of a nationwide action calling for an end to gun violence.

At Barringer Academy of the Arts and Humanities in the North Ward, students gathered in the schoolyard alongside Mayor Ras Baraka and interim schools chief Robert Gregory, who offered support to the protesters and even distributed a “student protest week” curriculum to schools.

Just after 10 a.m., hundreds of students watched in silence as a group of their classmates stood in a row and released one orange balloon every minute for 17 minutes — a tribute to the 17 people fatally shot inside a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

While the Barringer students and faculty mourned those victims they had never met, they also decried gun violence much closer to home: siblings and relatives who had been shot, times they were threatened with guns on the street. Principal Kimberly Honnick asked the crowd to remember Malik Bullock, who was a 16-year-old junior at Barringer when he was shot to death in the South Ward last April.

“Too many lives have been lost way too soon,” she said. “It is time for us to end the violence in our schools.”

School districts across the country have grappled with how to respond to walkouts, which were scheduled to occur at 10 a.m. in hundreds of schools. The student-led action, which was planned in the wake of the Florida mass shooting, is intended to pressure Congress to enact stricter gun laws.

Officials in some districts — including some in New Jersey — reportedly threatened to punish students who joined in the protest. But in Newark, officials embraced the event as a civics lesson for students and a necessary reminder to lawmakers that gun violence is not limited to headline-grabbing tragedies like the one in Parkland — for young people in many cities, it’s a fact of life.

“If there’s any group of people that should be opposed to the amount of guns that reach into our communities, it’s us,” Baraka said, adding that Newark police take over 500 guns off the street each year. “People in cities like Newark, New Jersey — cities that are predominantly filled with black and brown individuals who become victims of gun violence.”

On Friday, Gregory sent families a letter saying that the district was committed to keeping students safe in the wake of the Florida shooting. All school staff will receive training in the coming weeks on topics including “active shooter drills” and evacuation procedures, the letter said.

But the note also said the district wanted to support “students’ right to make their voices heard on this important issue.” Schools were sent a curriculum for this week with suggested lessons on youth activism and the gun-control debate. While students were free to opt out of Wednesday’s protests, high schools were expected to allow students to walk out of their buildings at the designated time while middle schools were encouraged to organize indoor events.

In an interview, Gregory said gun violence in Newark is not confined to mass shootings: At least one student here is killed in a shooting each year, he said — though there have not been any so far this year. Rather than accept such violence as inevitable, Gregory said schools should teach students that they have the power to collectively push for changes — even if that means letting them walk out of class.

“Instead of trying of trying to resist it, we wanted to encourage it,” he said. “That’s what makes America what it is.”

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Students released one balloon for each of the 17 people killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month.

After Barringer’s protest, where people waved signs saying “Love,” “Enough,” and “No to gun violence, several ninth-graders described what it’s like to live in communities where guns are prevalent — despite New Jersey’s tight gun restrictions.

Jason Inoa said he was held up by someone claiming to have a gun as he walked home. Destiny Muñoz said her older brother was shot by a police officer while a cousin was recently gunned down in Florida. The Parkland massacre only compounded her fear that nowhere is safe.

“With school shootings, you feel terrified,” she said. “You feel the same way you do about being outside in the streets.”

Even as the students called for tougher gun laws, they were ambivalent about bringing more police into their schools and neighborhoods. They noted that the Black Lives Matter movement, which they said they recently read about in their freshmen social studies class, called attention to black and Hispanic people who were treated harshly or even killed by police officers.

Ninth-grader Malik Bolding said it’s important to honor the victims of school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida. But the country should also mourn the people who are killed in everyday gun violence and heed the protesters who are calling for it to end, he added.

“Gun violence is gun violence — it doesn’t matter who got shot,” he said. “Everybody should be heard.”