Mistakes in School Performance Reports: Incompetence or Malice?
Incompetence or outright malice? I ask this when I look at the NJ Department of Education. For the second year in a row, egregious errors in the NJ School Performance Reports corrupt data published by the NJ DOE on Midland Park's enrollment. Last year, School Superintendent Dr. Marie Cirasella reported elementary enrollment was miscounted by nearly 50%. Yet, those numbers stand uncorrected a year later. How damaging! Voters take these numbers as evidence of a massive, mad rush from the school district and it is simply not true.
Again this year, a similar error in enrollment is published. After a month of hemming and hawing about release, data is posted at the end of the day, less than a week before a budget vote! The poor judgement is so staggering, it is fodder for conspiracy theorists. Is the state DOE punishing Midland Park for continuing to hold its elections in April, rather than November? The Midland Park BOE chose to wait and see how moving the annual school vote worked elsewhere in New Jersey before making this drastic change. They were loathe to strip away the right of the people of this town to have a direct say, every single year, in the size of our school budget. Releasing this data days before an election, when there is insufficient time to correct it, verges upon electioneering.
Happily, the overall report shows the district doing well. Midland Park Junior-Senior High School outperforms 83% of schools in New Jersey in college and career readiness. However, the new "peer" system is nothing less than ridiculous. Having abandoned the former District Factor Group system, which looked at socio-economic indicators to determine similar districts, the NJDOE adopted new "peer groupings "using enrollment in free or reduced lunch programs, limited English proficiency or special education programs.
I taught political economy at Columbia Business School for over a decade and I can say without hesitation that placing Midland Park Jr./Sr. High School in the same peer grouping with Glen Rock, Ridgewood, Northern Highlands, and Rumson-Fair Haven based on these indicators is absurd. They measure the proportion of poor in a district while disregarding the impact of wealth — they count federal free lunches, but not gourmet sushi deliveries. We here in Midland Park know the impact parental education and spending power, both on a district level and on the parental level, have on a child's performance on standardized tests. How the NJDOE can ignore it is a mystery.
Patricia Fantulin, president of the Community Alliance of Midland Park, is a regular contributor to the Midland Park Press.
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