“Newton has excellent public schools.” We hear this self-congratulatory mantra time and time again. This year, like last year, the school committee update touts “Scores in each grade for NPS students are 20 or more points higher than the state.” The summary states the obvious. Low-crime, affluent communities always have high scores.
Potential new Newton residents are likely to also consider towns like Brookline, Needham, and Wellesley, and less likely to consider Fall River, Brockton, and Springfield. As such, NPS performance should be benchmarked to our peers, not to the average district in the state. I analyzed our MCAS performance relative to two peer groups–NPS’ hand-selected peer group and a more comprehensive modification. Regardless of peer group, our MCAS scores are embarrassing. Compared with 15 peers, our elementary students rank 13, 12, and 14, respectively, in English Language Arts, Math, and Science. Compared with 13 peers, our high school students rank 10 in Math and 13 (dead last) in English Language Arts. How can anyone think this is excellent? This is not a one year hiccup. This is not our kids’ fault. This is our fault. We are failing our children.
Mayor Fuller’s budget for 2020 allocates $236 million to the NPS. Are we getting our money’s worth? Are we ensuring that these resources are being used effectively to educate our children? Shouldn’t we try to emulate our peers’ success?
If you would like Excel spreadsheets with this data, please email me at [email protected].
Here are some anticipated excuses.
Our schools are more diverse than other schools. It is challenging to teach core subjects in a diverse environment. Counterpoint. 18.9% of Newton students are neither white nor Asian, compared to 26.0% for Brookline. Brookline students outperform us in every single subject in every single grade level except for 10th grade math where we tie.
We are more diverse. Our averages are lower because of gap problems with sub-groups. Counterpoint. Not only is the typical student underperforming, but subgroups are also underperforming relative to peer districts. Specifically, African American, Latino, and economically disadvantaged students in Newton all underperform their respective counterparts in the median peer district.
Kids in other cities are smarter and/or their parents are more involved. Counterpoint. There are few communities with a higher proportion of highly educated parents than Newton. Highly educated parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s education. SAT performance is a barometer of both IQ and parental involvement, while it is less reflective of school quality. Our average SAT score is higher than the median peer.
Other districts “teach to the test.” Counterpoint. I do not know of data that can assess this. That being said, this is inconsistent with conversations that I have had with parents in peer cities.
Our high schools incorporate vocational training. Our peer cities have separate vocational schools that are not reported in the analysis. Counterpoint. Our poor performance starts in elementary school so these comparisons are unaffected by the exit of vocational students.