N.J. Suburban Parents Bury Their Heads in the Sand Too

Opinion by Laura Waters in NJ Left Behind

07/06/15

 Erika Sanzi at School Matters asks whether suburban parents are burying their heads in the sand regarding their perceptions of school excellence versus actual reality.

Parents prefer relationships to data. Most of us enjoy people more than numbers and like parent teacher conferences better than bar graphs.  We take comfort in knowing that our kids are being educated in a safe space and worry very little about the high school profile or SAT participation rate in our town. 
 It’s human nature to listen to our hearts instead of our heads and it’s normal to be driven by connections we feel to teachers and coaches and school leaders to whom we entrust our children every day. 
 Hard truths however are better learned early than too late. Parents in my little state of Rhode Island deserve to know how their kids match up educationally against kids from Massachusetts, Connecticut, and even Maryland. Is the education they’re receiving as good as it feels like it is or are there systemic and measurable deficiencies that parents need to acknowledge?

Indeed, there's a presumption among suburban parents across the nation, including New Jersey, that their local schools are immune from lagging student outcomes typically associated with urban schools. Even in N.J. most acclaimed public high schools  Livingston, for instance, where Gov. Christie announced his candidacy yesterday to the boos of teachers and where, in fact, he went to high school one out of four seniors score below 1550 on SAT's, considered the cut-off for college and career-readiness. The median household income in Livingston, by the way, is $133,271.

At Montclair High School, another monied suburban district (median household income: $126,983), only 59% of students get that 1550 on their SAT's that indicates readiness for success in college and careers.

For a less exclusive example, see Woodbridge High school, where the median household income is $79,606, about $10K above the N.J. average. There, only 32% of graduating students have an SAT score of over 1550. In other words, two out of three students in Woodbridge don't make the college-career readiness benchmark. In fact, only 73% of students even bother to take the SAT, a typical prerequisite for four-year colleges.

Mythology is hard to crack. One of our myths is that our suburban schools adequately prepare students for success after high school graduation. Joseph Campbell once said that "myths are public dreams." Maybe it's time we wake up.

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