Millburn offers a fine education system with a long tradition that all residents are genuinely proud of. However, the system is now grappling with a few weaknesses that need serious corrective action. A mere look at the elementary schools performance data raises very disconcerting questions about the pipeline of talent into the future that the township is building. Specifically, the consistent disparity in performance in the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge (NJ ASK) tests for grades 3, 4, 5 across the five elementary schools in the township is a cause for concern for many parents.
A review of last three years of the NJ ASK performance data using higher levels of partial proficiency and lower levels of advanced proficiency with at least a 5 percentage point underperformance versus the district average as the benchmarking criteria clearly shows the following:
Wyoming: (11 instances of underperformance)
2011-12: Language arts: Grades 5; Mathematics: Grades 3 and 5
20010-11: Mathematics: Grades 3, 4, and 5
2009-10: Language arts: Grades 3, 4 and 5; Mathematics: Grades 4 and 5
South Mountain: (10 instances of underperformance)
2011-12: Language arts: Grades 3 and 4, Mathematics: Grades 4 and 5, Science: Grade 4
20010-11: Language arts: Grade 3, Mathematics: Grades 3 and 5
2009-10: Language arts: Grade 4; Mathematics: Grade 5
Glenwood: (3 instances of underperformance)
20010-11: Language arts: Grade 5
2009-10: Science: Grade 4; Mathematics: Grade 4
Deerfield: (1 instance of underperformance)
2009-10: Science: Grade 4
Hartshorn: (5 instances of underperformance)
2011-12: Language arts: Grade 4, Mathematics: Grade 3 and 5
20010-11: Mathematics: Grade 4, Science: Grade 4
The data shows quite clearly that:
- Wyoming and South Mountain schools show issues of relative underperformance on a consistent basis.
- Any counter argument that the percentage variance is due to smaller student base at both Wyoming and South Mountain schools does not stand up to scrutiny as the underperformance with either the district average and/or the highest performance school tracks more than 10 percentage points in several instances in 2011-12 academic year alone – four times at Wyoming and five times at South Mountain.
- The performance matrix clearly implies suboptimal resource allocation for both Wyoming and South Mountain schools, and the need for additional/higher quality resources to improve their chronic relative underperformance. A review/reallocation of resources at Hartshorn is also needed.
- For Wyoming: Language arts need a shakeup across Grades 3, 4, 5; Mathematics needs a fix in Grade 3 and Grade 5.
- For South Mountain: Grade 4 is a problem area in all subjects; Additionally Grade 3 language arts and Grade 5 mathematic need a fix.
- For Hartshorn: Language arts in Grade 3, and mathematics in Grade 3 and Grade 5 need close attention.
A data driven review of the problem followed up by resource allocation to implement a solution and a regular review and monitoring brings in the desired outcome that is beneficial to all. However, my interaction with both the Millburn school district administration and the Millburn Board of Education leaves me more than disappointed. I had a few simple questions on the issue focusing on:
Q1: Budgetary allocations by elementary schools – overall budget, and budget/student, budget/teacher, and budget/staff ratios.
Q2: Resource allocation by elementary schools – classes, PTO programs, teachers (by numbers, quality, and structure of experience), teaching aides, computers, educational tools, and infrastructure.
Q3: Grade 6 performance of all incoming students by elementary schools to review their performance given the wider disparity in input quality.
None of my questions have been answered to date. There is an absolute stonewalling on the issue with bland declarations that there is no disparity in budgets/resources and also performance across the elementary schools.
For a school district with a budget of ~$77 million, not having such data readily available is surely a sign of incompetence or alternatively the data is readily available but it is not forthcoming because it is bound to expose some uncomfortable truths. For starters, it may show wide disparities in budgetary/resource allocations that are also reflected in performance disparities as shown above. However, if there are no disparities then it calls into question the efficacy of the allocated resources and a lack of supervision and performance oversight with respect to Wyoming and South Mountain schools.
The NJ ASK performance data for Millburn elementary schools speaks for itself, but the persistent denial of plain truth by those responsible for guarding the schools' interests raises the question why one part of the town is being favored over the other side? Is there a “soft bigotry of lowered expectations” based on the zip code? These are not personal opinions of someone but data speaking for itself and raising the relevant questions.