TRENTON – While New Jersey ranks high overall in test scores and graduation rates, Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf said New Jersey ranks as one of the worst (number 47) in the achievement gap between educationally disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.
“This is a moral outrage,” he said in his opening remarks at a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing on Monday. “We are presiding over a tremendous human tragedy.”
He said students trapped in the underperforming schools are 54 percent proficient on math and 30 percent proficient in science. He said there is a 30 percent gap in language arts between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.
Cerf said this gap exists even though New Jersey is one of the highest-spending states when it comes per-student spending ($17,600 on average) and teacher salaries.
He said there are some 200 schools where there’s a high rate of failure and student underperformance, particularly among minority students.
In Newark, for example, 98 percent who graduate from a Newark high school need a year of remediation in college, he said.
He questioned how the teachers’ union could support the status quo in which older, ineffective teachers are allowed to remain on the payroll, while dismissing younger, effective teachers.
“How do we do that and go to sleep at night,” he said.
In some school districts, only four out of 10 African-American students are considered proficient , he said.
In one Camden school, only one out of 10 students is proficient, according to Cerf.
“We need to put political theater on the side.”
Given the performance at such public schools, Cerf said it’s important to provide charter schools, especially in such districts like Newark, where there are 8,000 children on waiting lists.