Trenton Public Schools has announced that it will restructure its four K-8 schools: Columbus, Joyce Kilmer, PJ Hill, and Gregory. According to today’s Trenton Times, the DOE has ordered the Mercer County district to make “major changes” to Columbus and Kilmer because Columbus is in its 4th year as a School In Need of Improvement (SINI) under NCLB and Kilmer is in its 5th year as a SINI. PJ Hill is in its 6th year as a SINI and Gregory is in its 4th year; both will undergo changes as part of Trenton’s application for a federal School Improvement Grant.
Under NCLB sanctions, if a school is labeled consistently failing then the School Board can elect to convert to a charter, replace all the principals, or replace most of the staff. Trenton will take the last option, though all tenured employees are still guaranteed jobs within the district.
So how bad are these elementary schools? Everything’s relative. At Columbus 53% of 3d graders failed the language arts portion of the state assessment (ASK3) and 26.7% failed the math portion, a big improvement over last year’s math failure rate of 52%. By 8th grade 52.9% of students failed the language arts portion and 81.8% failed the math portion. At Kilmer exactly the same percentage of kids (hmm…) failed both portions of ASK3: 73.2%. By 8th grade 52% failed language arts and 76.8% failed math.
At PJ Hill, 81% of 3d graders fail the state assessment (ASK3) in language arts and 60.3% fail the math portion. By 8th grade only 60% fail language arts but 80% fail math. At Gregory, 88% of 3d graders fail the language arts portion and 82.7% fail the math portion. Eighth-grade scores are slightly better: 56.4% fail language arts and 79.5% fail math.
Just how bleak is the education scene in Trenton? It only gets worse after 8th grade. Trenton Central High’s freshman class started out in 2006 with 600 freshmen. By senior year there were 347 left. Why the shrinkage? 37% of white students, 12% of black students, 8.6% of Hispanic students, 9.7% of Asian students, and 14.8% of students with disabilities dropped out. According to the DOE data base 100% of graduating seniors have no plans for college or employment, though that’s no doubt an error on the part of either the district or the DOE. (Does no one proof these things?)
Of the 200 9th graders at Trenton Central High West, a little more than half are there by senior year, but many are college-bound. At Daylight/Twilight High, Trenton’s alternative school, 83% of students fail the 11th grade language arts assessment and everyone fails the math portion. 100% of white students drop out; black and Hispanic students have a much better completion rate.
Will a game of musical chairs with the staff boost achievement? Hard to say. And perhaps interim superintendent Raymond Broach has more substantive plans that address some of the concerns expressed by the Education Transition Team appointed by Tony Mack. Here’s three recommendations from that report:
- Immediate action must be taken to restructure the district’s central office to guarantee an overriding focus on students’ learning, growth, and achievement, one that adds value to the work of the schools. At present, such a focus is completely absent.
- The District must take urgent action to establish: a) a core curriculum that reflects the standards adopted by the State (as well as being readily accessible to, and understandable and usable on a daily basis by teachers and principals); b) a coherent assessment program that supports all students in their learning, growth and achievement; and c) an inclusive systemic professional development initiative that focuses sharply on leadership, curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
- The District must take urgent action to establish a systemic database that clearly informs the day-to-day work of teachers and principals.
School choice, anyone?