Montclair Achievement Gap Advisory Panel Recommends Creating a Gap Czar

Jonathan Simon addresses the audience at the AGAP presentation.
Jonathan Simon addresses the audience at the AGAP presentation.

The Achievement Gap Advisory Panel presented their findings to a packed house of parents, teachers and other interested parties at the George Inness Atrium at Montclair High School on Tuesday night. Panel members summarized the report’s findings, reviewed their recommendations and answered questions from the audience. Montclair Superintendent of Schools Ronald E. Bolandi was also on hand to answer questions.

The panel’s primary recommendation—the appointment of an assistant superintendent of equity and achievement to serve in the Montclair superintendent’s cabinet—drew skeptical comments from some of the attendees who asked why another layer of bureaucracy was needed. The panel responded by stressing the need for one person to oversee the execution of the recommendations and be accountable for effectively addressing the situation.

Jonathan Simon, chairman of the panel, started the session by thanking Nina DeRosa, executive assistant to the Superintendent, and Lois Whipple, executive director of the Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence for their support in making this presentation a reality.

Simon then introduced the presentation by summarizing how it was developed.

“This committee is pleased to be in front of you at the culmination of 18 months of almost 400 hours to formulate a comprehensive set of recommendations for what has been termed the achievement gap. We’ve engaged with parents through our two community sharing forums, our subcommittees met with the principles of our schools, we met with town clergy, our town council, the mayor, NAACP leadership, the Board of Education, the Montclair Education Association and the Civil Rights Committee. We received emails from parents, caregivers and activists, and we studied academic research and our local data and lastly debated nationwide best practices and success stories to determine what is relevant for Montclair,” he said.

Panel member David Troutt made a few introductory comments to give context to the data saying “there is a lingering aspect of two different fates. As some students enjoy college admissions and go on to stellar careers, others simply don’t have those opportunities. It’s a story where those outcomes become clear at 17 or 18, but in some ways are foreshadowed when these children enter kindergarten.” Troutt went on to explain how by the time kids reach third grade, paths of white and African American students diverge. Paths also split at fifth and eighth grade too. Many students who fall behind cannot catch up.

Report Lays Out Achievement Gap
Panel member George Glass guided the audience through an extensive overview of the report’s data. Focusing on the high school, middle school and elementary school. The high school has a racial breakdown of 49 percent white, 36 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic and 6 percent Asian. To illustrate his point about the achievement gap, Glass focused on a slide that starkly laid out the disparity—for grade 12, 158 white students were in the top 50 percent, compared to 45 African American students; 57 white students were in the bottom 50 percent, while 149 African American students were in the bottom 50 percent.

Glass explained how important taking advanced placement courses is to a student’s career and how the path to AP math courses starts in the 10 grade where students on the AP track are taking higher level Geometry/Trigonometry courses. To drive home the point that admission into advanced math classes requires students to take advanced math classes years ahead, Glass showed this slide, which is enough to make your head explode.

This slide on the racial composition of 11th and 12th grade AP courses also shows the disparity between black and white students.

618 AGAP Slide 9 Cut

Suspension Rates in Montclair
Panel member Peter Keating, reviewed the report’s findings on suspension rates, which again showed major differences between white and black students.

618 AGAP Slide 14

While the overall number of suspensions in declining, there’s still a high number of black students suspended compared to white students.
“The data comprises some disturbing disparities,” said Keating. You’ll see here in the last year we have data, 2012-2013, 33 African American students were suspended in high school compared with five white students. In South Orange and Maplewood, a difference of 10 or 15 percent was enough to trigger legal action. Here we’re talking about a differential of eight or nine times. Why this is so important is that time spent in the classroom is one of the most important predictors of academic performance. Just one suspension by ninth grade is associated with a dramatically increased chance of a student dropping out. Every suspension makes it harder for students to catch up.”

Middle School
Glass reviewed the racial composition of Montclair’s Middle Schools before launching into the data. Middle school students are 49 percent white, 32 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and 7 percent Asian.

“Kids really start to separate in terms of performance in grades 6, 7, 8,” said Glass.

618 AGAP Slide 21

Regarding the suspension rate for black students, the report showed that African American students consistently represent more than 70 percent of school suspensions, while representing only 32 percent of the total middle school population. Special Ed students show disproportionality relative to general education students according to the report.

Panel member Paula White tried to put the panel’s findings into context. “We recognize and focus on significant and undeniable gaps in achievement in our school system, but this is not to imply that there aren’t African American students experiencing success. Nor is it meant to imply that all of our white children are being adequately served or are excelling, but we are focusing on undeniable gaps. The second point I’d like to make is there are great things happening right now in the Montclair Public School. District. Our intent is to provide recommendations that will lead to the standardization of excellent practices.”

Elementary School
Glass said reading and writing proficiency are critical for students to attain in the third grade. Failure to do so can impact a student’s career into high school. The slide below shows the data for third grade reading proficiency. Ninety percent of white children are reading proficiently compared to 60 percent of black children and 68 percent of Hispanic children.

618 AGAP Slide 32

While the suspension rate in elementary school has gone down in recent years, it still is disproportionately high for black students.

Overall Recommendations
Based on the report’s findings, the panel made the following recommendation to address the achievement gap in Montclair schools.

“Our first recommendation is the appointment of an Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Achievement to serve in the Montclair Superintendent’s cabinet. This full-time educator-official will have as their sole responsibility the task of overseeing the implementation of these and other reforms, the authority to monitor compliance at the school level and the institutional capacity to coordinate best practices across the district. ”

Additional list of recommendations here, starting on page 43, include:

* Reviewing Longitudinal Achievement Data.

* Supporting Marshall Rubric Teacher Evaluations.

* Principal Town Halls for School Performance Reports.

* Quarterly Progress Monitoring for schools with Large Gaps.

* Standardizing the Process for New Academic Programs.

Reviewing Response to Intervention (RTI) Policy.

* Algebra Readiness. Administer the algebra readiness exam to all fifth grade students; Allow 5th grade teachers or caregivers to recommend a student for Algebra in 6th grade.

* Math Readiness. Provide a year of Algebra instruction to all students by the end of 8th grade.

* Reaching for Advanced Placement. Increase the numbers of students from populations who are underrepresented in Honors, High Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes with appropriate support identified, scaled, and funded, e.g. tutoring services through community partners; require any student from a population that is underrepresented in a higher level course, who receives an “A” or “B” in a lower level courses to have a timely meeting with a staff member and caregiver about upgrading to a higher level course in that subject area.

* Sensible Universal Suspension Policies. Develop a universal suspension policy related to non-violent offenses; Ensure that disciplinary policies are implemented consistently District-wide and are followed; Ensure that an intervention process is adhered to before any suspension decisions are made.

* Independent Race Bias and Cultural Competency Assessments. Conduct a search process to identify, a provider of racial, unconscious bias, equity and cultural competency assessment and embed these elements into the professional development requirements for all staff; ensure the provider embeds the historical and contemporary impacts that racism has had on student outcomes and student success.

What’s Next?
According to the report, the committee is planning these next steps to promote and execute their recommendations:
Schedule a deeper dive on the data for parents and caregivers for Fall 2015.
Work with the Superintendent, BOE, MPSD COO, and Town Council (Education Subcommittee) to develop a multi-year funding strategy.
Present to the Board of Education at a future date.
Engage key community partners in a series of sessions to implement the Intercommunity Council – outline roles, responsibilities, deliverables and outcomes in September.
Recruit new AGAP members who are interested in joining the next phase of the work
Organize a meeting with the SATP leadership to review the recommendations.

Regarding funding, Simon mentioned “We’ll be working with Dr. Bolandi, the town council and the Board to map out a funding strategy. While some are low hanging fruit, there will be a need to have additional funding for the budget, particularly the position. We happen to know there’s a number of resources in the educational sphere for example…we’re going to look to see if we as a district can apply for those funds. The Ford Foundation just announced a big approach to look at inequality. We believe that much of this work can be done in a thoughtful and deliberate way without necessarily having to fall on the backs of all of you as taxpayers.”

Q&A Session
During the Q&A session, attendees brought up both reactions to the presentation and concerns.

An attendee asked about the dearth of black teachers at the Bullock School, Superintendent Bolandi responded.

“We’re going to start that and I agree with you wholeheartedly. Your staff has to reflect your population. How you do that…Were going to do minority recruitment, which we haven’t done here in I don’t know how long….I’ve done this work. You’re looking at someone who is actually changed the complexion of the staff. I’m going to do that in the coming school year. How do you put a check and balance on it, because that’s really important. This year, starting now, that every person that’s going to be recommended, has to come to see me. If I don’t see what I want to see, I’m sending them back and I’m going to ask how many people did you interview, how did you interview? Like I said to you before, I don’t talk, I do. Forty years of doing. We need to do that. It’s not going to be perfect Next year I will guarantee you our recruitment process for administrators, teachers anybody in the system, will have a check and balance.

Another attendee addressed the panel and drew applause from the audience when he asked “When are you going to try and attract the kind of people who are solving problems in Elizabeth?”

Elise Body offered this perspective to the panel, by asking “Can we start to think about who has the ability to learn as opposed to where they are situated in a track that is designed to reinforce kids who are already advantaged? And are there ways to disrupt the tracking system and pipeline, so that if you are off the track you can make your way back on?”

John Greenburg asked the panel to produce more socioeconomic information on the achievement gap and added that “[closing the gap] is going to take resources and maybe that’s the elephant in the room. I hear people complain about the achievement gap in the same breath they complain about their property taxes and home values.”

Closing Remarks
In closing, Simon reminded attendees a limited number of printed reports were available at the event. Additionally the panel would post a PDF of the full report to their website at: Interested parties could also view the report upon request at Montclair’s Public Libraries.

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  1. Why isn’t this broken down by socioeconomic status? What were the acts or actions that led to the suspensions? Why is it that the behavior and its causes entirely overlooked?

  2. I too am skeptical about adding another staff member to run the show. However, I do think putting one person in charge will contribute to a unified direction on improving our achievement gap. Without a single leader to coalesce around the problem is everyone’s/no one’s responsibility and that clearly isn’t working.

  3. I have not read the full report yet, but based on the above recap, I am disappointed with the data deliverables and the recommendations. It seems like an interim report not ready to support the recommendations – like creating the Assistant Superintendent position.

    I don’t agree at all with this keystone recommendation for numerous reasons. It bad org mgmt, financial mgmt and the AGAP Committee didn’t make a good case for it. This relatively new committee has the opportunity to be a permanent one with a clear & important role in tackling one of our most important initiatives. It should be given the appropriate support and feedback, but be willing to be flexible in how we get there. The Assistant Superintendent position is the best example of that flexibility.

  4. Agree.
    Break it down by economics, that’s an important factor.

    Tell us what the suspensions were for!

    ” This year, starting now, that every person that’s going to be recommended, has to come to see me. If I don’t see what I want to see, I’m sending them back and I’m going to ask how many people did you interview, how did you interview?”
    What do you want to see?

  5. First, I am distressed by the comment that the slide is “enough to make your head explode”. Our students have options, and they are many. This is a Good Thing, and wider options should be encouraged. Reducing the paths available to our students just to simplify a graphic is a disturbing idea.

    However, missing here is that the document is incorrect. For example, a student in algebra 1A in 7th grade must, according to this document, take algebra 1B and geometry concurrently in 8th grade to be able to take the more advanced math classes later. Despite this document, though, that is not the only choice. A student may instead take just 1B in 8th grade, and then algebra 2 and geometry concurrently in 9th grade.

    More, at least some math teachers as well as the current and most recent past heads of math in the district recommend the latter path: the path that is being hidden from families by its absence from this document.

    As I mentioned above, I believe having many possible paths for our students is a good thing. Different paths will work better for different students, so having more options lets us better serve more of our children.

    Undocumented options, though, only help those that can investigate these issues. That’s unfair.


  6. “Supporting Marshall Rubric Teacher Evaluations”

    I’m curious how this will be handled by the current superintendent. In the most recent BOE meeting, he asserted that – while teachers are not fearful of evaluations – the current system is unfair.


  7. Andrew – the title of the slide itself is “The Complexity of Navigating the Maze of Math,” hence the comment. I don’t see where anyone is suggesting reducing paths, but clearly parents need to be able to understand the paths and what happens depending on the direction you take.

    You bring up a good point about paths people don’t know about — I also think students can hear one thing in middle school and then find out about alternate paths in high school that other students have taken.

  8. “When people don’t know the history of racist violence, every act is a one-time thing. The “system” in systemic racism becomes invisible.”- A recent quote related to the Charleston Massacre. I believe the same can be said about this report. Without confronting the part systemic racism plays in Montclair and in our schools, as seen in staff inequity, suspension policy, and school/class scheduling, it remains invisible.

  9. “The title of the slide”

    That was added by the report authors. The original is:

    The graphic really isn’t tough to follow, going from class to class by following arrows. I’d welcome it being made simpler, though, as long as the number of paths isn’t reduced. Reducing the paths, though, should be a non-starter.

    Still: how simple or complex it may be isn’t really an issue if it is simply incorrect or incomplete.

    “paths people don’t know about”

    That’s important from a gap perspective. There’s a fair amount of “hidden lore” in this district. Even I, a relatively involved parent, am often surprised to learn something it would have been helpful to know before. How many kids are denied a chance at something merely because they didn’t know to start the path years earlier?

    It doesn’t even have to be something “big” like math classes. Art portfolios submitted upon entry to Glenfield aren’t supposed to include folded works. Some art teachers in K-5, though, don’t know to warn students not to fold projects being returned.


  10. “…paths people don’t know about”… Is systemic denial of opportunity that affects achievement. If relatively involved parents/Family aren’t aware of the hidden paths, how does this affect those that implicitly trust the institution to do right by them, who have no clue that access to a Counselor, or that they can change their child’s scheduling, or even who to know on the PTA/SAT, and what the impact these paths can have on student achievement. Until we, as a Community, commit ourselves to confront systemic racism and privilege, will be having this same conversation over and over again.

  11. The REALLY REALLY sad thing is that families have been in the dark about this math path stuff. We were. Teachers did not inform us, administrators did not inform us and therefore my kid fell through the cracks. Unfortunate isn’t it? Parents should not have to go searching for this stuff and we were aware of NOTHING. I’m disgusted.

  12. Missed the meeting but scanned the summary. I sincerely appreciate the committee’s efforts but found output disappointing. Mostly just a big data dump reestablishing what everyone knew: big gap in grades, test scores, and suspension rates exists that emerges early.

    No breakthrough recommendations that I saw, and the woeful top line suggestion was to appoint an “achievement and equity” czar. Hmmm. Would any AGAP committee members be interested in applying? And why “equity?” I saw no evidence in the summary that achievement, AP, or suspension gap reflected double standards in grading or suspension policies (how could it, in progressive Montclair?).

    The report was sadly narrow. These achievement and suspension gaps exist all over the country, so peculiarities of Montclair school system could hardly be the cause.(oh, lets solve gap by adopting “Marshall Rubric Teacher Evaluations”) What have other municipalities done to narrow gap, besides-shudder-experiment with charter schools? Is there NO academic research that could inform the committee’s deliberations? I didn’t see mention of any.

    I was dismayed that first question (reported by Baristanet above) was about hiring more Black teachers and then see Bolandi jump all over it (because he is a “doer”). Really? Does the Montclair AGAP reflect too many white teachers? If you buy that hypothesis, check out this article in today’s NYT.

  13. No, qby33, not all parents have to search for this information. Some parents are very knowledgeable of how to access opportunity for their child, how to circumvent teacher recommendations, how to get their choice of schools, and how to make the system work to their advantage. The behavior modification techniques of some charter schools may increase test scores and the hiring of an assistant superintendent (again) to address inequity may look good on paper, but, until Montclair has the collective will to confront the institutionalized behavior ingrained in the town that maintains this “gap”, higher test scores will just be another means to put a fresh coat of paint over the decay we ignore.

  14. “behavior modification?!” Charter schools are not Clockwork Orange. Isn’t the main difference with Charters the extra instruction time and the low tolerance for disruptive behavior (which demonstrably impairs peformance of other students)? What “institutionalized behavior” are you talking about?

  15. Read “Walden Two” B,F. Skinner; Read “The New Jim Crow” Michelle Alexander; Read “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy” Lani Guinier; Read “Shock Doctrine” Naomi Klein. Read the suspension report data; visit schools and observe staffing. Read previous posts.

  16. Reading the HS recommendations at I was impressed by some but puzzled by others. I liked #3, where anyone “from a population that is underrepresented in higher level courses” that receives a high grade will be encouraged to “upgrade” to a more rigorous class. I’m not sure why we’d want to limit this only to members of certain populations, though; it sounds like a generically good idea to be encouraging all our students to do the best work they can.

    On a perhaps related topic, I found the idea of disallowing students from making unilateral decisions puzzling. What makes this an issue? Assuming for the moment that the parents are leaving this decision to the student, is that not their choice? Shouldn’t we be encouraging greater levels of responsibility on our children as they get older? On the other side, if we assume that the parents are somehow out of the loop completely, what can the schools do to correct this?

    I assume that the problem is that students are choosing easier classes. Perhaps, instead of trying to get others involved who might choose differently (or might not), we should see how the school can encourage students to strive for more than just the easiest path.

    If I’ve understood this correctly, there’s some level of additional grade weighting given to more difficult classes. The document states “many parents have figured out how to manage course selection to achieve higher GPAs”. Instead of faulting parents (or students!) for getting the best value from the system, we should be teaching everyone how to get the best value.

    Maybe that more direct approach – helping students make better choices – would be better than simply preventing students from making their own choices. After all, MHS is not the only place in the world where understanding the rules lets one make better choices; operating this way is worth teaching for its own value.

    After learning that a B in a higher level class provides more value than an A in a lower level class, our students seeking the “easier” path might find the higher level class more attractive.


  17. Reading, from the same document, the Elementary recommendations…some of these are *great*. The worst are merely good.

    Perhaps I understand these better than the HS recommendations as I’ve had children pass through K-5 while my eldest is still in middle school.


  18. Donmorgan, there is a ton of research on methods for reducing the achievement gap. Use your favorite search engine and give it a whirl. It is, I agree, amazing that their report seems uninformed (although I admit that I have not yet gone over it with a fine-toothed comb). The recommendations they emphasized at the meeting, though, are shockingly lacking in creativity. Most of the recommendations they are pushing really just reinstitute programs the district use to have but have cut in the past several years. This is not to say that they are all bad because they have existed in the past or that they won’t help some kids, but it does make me really question where the district’s priorities have been.

    My main issue with an asst. superintendent being stressed as “the first and last recommendation,” as described at the meeting, is that it is symbolic of how hierarchical the report and the recommendations are. The competition and hierarchy that has come to comsume public schooling is part and parcel of keeping systemic discrimination in place. (I, too, highly recommend Lani Guinier’s “The Tyranny of the Meritocracy.”) They want someone to hold accountable. It’s not necesarily a bad idea to have someone organizing what should be multi-faceted, game-changing, school-based programs; but when programs do not work, this person can be fired and then we start again with someone new. We could get years of lip-service and top-down decisions.

    Solutions need to start in the classroom. They need to be democratically implemented, and those who will be most strongly impacted – the students and the teachers and paras – need to be involved every step of the way in designing and implementing solutions. The top-down approach reveals that the panel is looking to address glitches in the overall system but not the system itself. In the long run, their approach may help some kids become more “competitive,” but as in any competition, there will be many who lose.

  19. Meccamagic I hear you. Some parents are in the know because they have the time to sit around chatting over long lunch dates. Discussing the math path and best teachers/ houses at great length ! While the rest of us are kept in the dark and even when our kid scores high proficient and get straight As, somehow they aren’t put on the right track. Silly me, didn’t know my ingoing 6th grader had to be in a certain Algebra to set him on the road to success. Thank you Montclair school district for doing right by him. When is the search for a new PERMANENT Super going to happen? I think we need to get the ball rolling. No time like the present. How much is Bolandi making as interim?

  20. Thanks for bibliography meccamagic. But I was sincerely hoping for at least one actual from you of “institutionalized behavior” in Montclair that “maintains” the AGAP. You realize that your hypothesis is almost isomorphic to “Montclair teachers and administrators are racists” right? Just replace “behavior” with “racism.” And they must be selective racists too, because the Asian-white gap goes the other way. As you can see, your hypothesis bemuses me. I guess I do need to read Shock Doctrine.

  21. How do the suspension statistics correlate to kids reading below their grade level? If all Montclair kids read at or above grade level, it would seem they will be better prepared for the class work. And able to seize opportunities as they are presented.

    Eliminating social promotions in the primary grades would deliver better prepared kids into middle school programs etc. Making mandatory Summer school for kids who aren’t prepared to move on could provide an incentive at a point where inflection is beneficial.

    Maybe hire more reading teachers and institute mandatory competence standards in reading for grades 1-5 in lieu of another assistant superintendent?

  22. “To illustrate his point about the achievement gap, Glass focused on a slide that starkly laid out the disparity—for grade 12, 158 white students were in the top 50 percent, compared to 45 African American students; 57 white students were in the bottom 50 percent, while 149 African American students were in the bottom 50 percent.”

    Where’s the deep dive that highlights the differentiators that separate the 45 in the top from the 149 in the bottom? We’ll need to also observe the students’ behavior over an extended period of time and take this into consideration with all of the data points that should outline their economic status and that of their parents. We’ll need contextual data that provides a snapshot of their lives, upbringing and emotional/physical well being as well.

    It really sounds crazy that Montclair gets burdened with finding an answer to problems that extend far beyond its borders. Increasingly, we seem to be bombarded with the importation of hostile personalities and social problems via county wide programs like section-8, by which we encounter value systems at variance with Montclair’s enlightened culture of intellectualism, esthetic beauty and love of art. Some persons seem to go out of their way to disrupt the much resented much maligned harmony of our schools and communities.

    Q. How is what is going on in Elizabeth, NJ applicable? I can’t think of a landscape, environment or atmosphere more different from what one encounters in Montclair. For decades I have personally known several generations of black families in Montclair who consistently send their sons and daughters to Dartmouth, Yale, UCLA, University of Chicago, Bucknell, William and Mary and some of the most prestigious and ancient European academic institutions for both undergraduate and graduate programs. I don’t hear much about that on here though. This is a wonderful town with an exceptional school system and a smart, beautiful and diverse collection of students who interact with one another, love one another and befriend one another. But, you’d never know it from reading some of the angry postings on baristanet.

  23. Andrew,

    You make some interesting points about keeping lots of options open for students, especially as abstract mathematical thinking is in flux in middle/early HS grades.

    To correct one point you make (because I respect that you actually try to keep you facts straight), a B in a high honors class at MHS is worth FEWER “quality points” (4.0) than an A in an honors class (4.5). I believe the same is true of the honors to CP classes, since it is my understanding that all the level are .5 points apart but when you drop down a letter grade in each category (HH, H, CP), you drop down 1.0 point. The general wisdom is, therefore, to “take the highest level class that you can do well in.”

    The fact that HH and AP classes have the exact same “quality points” was also not clear from the presentation. I believe that wasn’t always the case, changing in more recent years so that there isn’t an AP differential any longer.

  24. I also just realized that the chart listed for AP classes completely leaves out AP History I and AP History II (the footnote says that it doesn’t include 10th grade AP US History 1 but in fact 11th grade AP US History 2 is also omitted).

    That is interesting in that it is, in my experience, one of THE MOST common AP classes taken. Unless I’m mistaken, all students in both CSJ and CGI have the option to take this class (and many,perhaps most, do). I believe the courses in both CGI and CSJ are differentiated within the class itself, so H and AP students are in class together–and the students can opt into the level they want within the same class.

    Why would these two popular courses not be included in the stats?

  25. The numbers slide showing racial disparity in numbers in AP courses is disturbing but not shocking. We know there is a gap, that’s what we’re dealing with here. Has anyone asked students why or why not they chose an AP class, and what they would need pursue such a decision?

  26. thanksalatte, ask a student? C’mon. That’s too easy. But didn’t B-net recently have a story about the CGI (?) learning community at the High School, which featured stories about why Black students didn’t choose it (not enough Black kids)? So why is any of this new? Sure “data” helps understand it, but is it new info?

    I’m beginning to question the whole “Achievement Gap” issue. From this Panel Report, and other writing on the subject, it seems that “Achievement Gap” is the “new” code for “why aren’t Black kids achieving when the resources are available?”

    The answer to this, which nonfatwithwhip hit on the head is: many do. And many don’t. The difference I bet has more to do with who is in the child’s home (single vs. two) parents, family income, and family educational attainment. I bet most of those Black students nonfatwithwhip is talking about came grew up surrounded by college educated adults, parents were home, helped with homework, and knew what they were doing in school.

    I also bet those student that Achieve Less, are more likely to come from single parents, who have only a high school education, and earn less income.

    (Though for many new immigrants, this is not usually true.)

  27. “and the students can opt into the level they want within the same class.”

    How does that work in practice? Perhaps I should be asking: what differentiates these two classes being given within the same class from one another?


  28. “It really sounds crazy that Montclair gets burdened with finding an answer to problems that extend far beyond its borders.”

    I’m not sure that I’d agree with the use of the word “burdened”, in that I don’t believe that some outside agency is forcing this upon us. Yes, it is an issue that extends well beyond our borders, and yes, a more global solution would be terrific.

    In the absence of one, though, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be doing what we can to address the issue even if only within our borders and within our own limitations.


  29. “I also bet those student that Achieve Less, are more likely to come from single parents, who have only a high school education, and earn less income.”

    The performance data is broken out economically. With the data broken out that way, the gap is reduced but does not disappear. I’ve not seen a report which looks at those other variables. Perhaps, if they too were factored in, the gap would disappear.

    Let’s assume so for the moment. What should be done with this information? Because these are factors – parent education, income, family structure – outside of our control, should we just accept that this is the way things are? Should we accept that some of our students will simply not do well because of these factors?

    To me, that seems wrong. As a parent, I advocate for my children. As a citizen and taxpayer (and volunteer), I advocate for all our kids. To simply shrug our collective shoulders is failing even to try to serve all our kids as best we can.

    On the other hand, if we use knowledge of the causes not as an excuse but as information by which we can produce better solutions, then I expect we’d have something very interesting.


  30. “Should we accept that some of our students will simply not do well because of these factors?
    To me, that seems wrong.”

    Schools cannot be expected to make up these differences. We cannot expect who? Teachers to do what? Home inspections? Or perhaps we should hire new folks to will be there to make sure homework is done, kids have proper meals, are loved, etc.

    Sorry. Our kids come in from different worlds and we cannot expect them to ALL meet the same level of “achievement.” We can do what we do offer courses, extra resources, wonderful teachers, programs, etc.

    But if students do not take advantage of it– see the CGI discussion- there is not much to do.

    Which is why I continue to support programs like the SEED programs that create a Boarding school environment for some kids.

    Still, hoping for the same outcome when the differences that matter (family structure, income, educational attainment) are different will never work.

  31. ” ‘and the students can opt into the level they want within the same class.’
    How does that work in practice? Perhaps I should be asking: what differentiates these two classes being given within the same class from one another?

    Andrew – it’s not easy – and it’s not easily described in a blog post comment format, either…

    and it looks different for us as opposed to CGI, too — our students opt into AP at different rates – which is not surprising – they roughly reflect the AP rates of the same demographic groups outside CGI/CSJ (i.e. the whiter/more affluent SLC has a higher AP rate)… this year, in CSJ, we had the highest rate of 11th graders choosing AP that we’ve had since I’ve been teaching here – I think 30 out of 67 students (about 45%)… I can’t speak to CGI’s exact numbers but they are higher (again, not surprising – the whiter/more affluent SLC has a higher AP rate)…

    so now back to your “what does it look like?” question – one very general thing I can say (and this is my conclusion – you’d need to ask CGI, too) is that we teach an effectively H class and supplement for the AP students (extra assignments, longer essays and papers, extra requirements for projects, etc.), while CGI, I believe, teaches an effectively AP class and then subtracts work for the H students…. hence one reason why the impression is that hey are harder (and for too many folks harder means better)… when you add racialized impressions of the two groups, we have people stigmatizing the blacker space as “less than” which is problematic…. now add in that in reality, CSJ is “whiter” (more diverse) than we’ve ever been while CGI continues to be pretty monochromatic… it’s very, very, complex…. people could, and literally have, written articles/books/dissertations about this stuff here in MHS – i’ve thought about doing my dissertation about MHS myself…

    one thing i know, and it’s been reinforced reading the comments here, is that the community needs a series of events teaching them about the causes, and about systemic/structural/institutional race issues…. people will have less simplistic (and certain) answers/solutions once they know the complexity of the issue, i hope… the panel may benefit from taking a step back and doing some teaching on the gap before throwing data slides up as the primary manifestation of the issues…

  32. It would be helpful to distribute the math algorithm to all 3rd and 4th grade parents. One aspect not covered on the algorithm is the seemingly arbitrary changes to the criteria for entering Algebra. Last year the district implemented a test to decide Algebra placement. This year they used a points system including a test. Know that it is possible for a 5th grader to have perfect NJ ASK math scores, straight ‘A’s in math, love math, have supportive involved parents – and still not get into the early Algebra track that leads to advanced placement in high school. I’m not sure why there’s exclusively for Algebra versus a ‘try it you might like it’ approach.

  33. I am continually fascinated by the AG focus almost entirely at the high school level while the parallel discussion this year will be Pre-K. Is it coincidence that MHS is not a magnet?

    The elementary schools are. They ate the bread & butter of our school quality. Yet, the elementary schools are graduating a third of the minority students from the 3rd grade that are not proficient in reading & writing. MPS has had these children for 4 years and this is where we are. Further, we must add Pre-K like it will me some magic bullet that will hide the lack of performance at the elementary grade levels.. It will not doubt help, but the primary focus needs to be at the K-5 level…not at the middle school and certainly not at the HS.

  34. I’d concur 100% with Mr Rubacky’s comment above. Simply passing children from grade to grade without reading and math competence guarantees failure for many.

    30% of minority kids having deficiencies in reading and math is an issue that parents should be in the street protesting. If it’s a teacher issue, let’s get teachers who can do the job. If it’s a specialist issue, get new people. And, while we’re at it, replace the management that accepts this level of failure as “business as usual”.

    This is fundamental education. And, it’s lacking.

  35. paolo,

    “30% of minority kids having deficiencies…” If a “teacher issue,” how does this work? Are our teachers racist? They see Black kids in their classes and ignore them? Teach them wrong stuff? Some teachers may be terrible, may even be racist.

    But I refuse to believe this number can come close to accounting for a 30% deficiency. No way.

    Is it so hard to believe or see that this is a socioeconomic/cultural issue? (When I say cultural, I speak directly about the new culture of out of wedlock births– certainly not “Black Culture.” See this for info:

    Still I look forward to more time, more effort and little progress because the root issues continue to ignored.

  36. “The data from the recent report back up the observation that moms in the U.S. are getting older, putting off marriage and baby-making in their 20s and choosing to start families at least a decade later—if not more. The birth rate for millennials dropped 2 percent between 2013 and 2014. Overall the rates of births among women in their twenties has steadily declined since 2007 by more than 4 percent a year. Birth rates increased by 3 percent among women in their 30s and 2 percent for women in their 40s between 2013 and 2014.” – 6/18/15

  37. Yes, Frank. If directed at my comment, I’m not sure what general patterns of birthrates have to do with “out of wedlock” births.

    Women are having kids older, great! But the rate of kids born to single parents is rising. And while a single parent can CERTAINLY bring up a child (I did alright) this issue speaks directly to the root cause of many of these deficientcies that cause the so-called “Achievement Gap,” such as family income, education attainment, etc.

    But again, is the expectation that each kid, regardless of home-life and family score the same on tests, same grades, etc.? Forgive me, but that will never happen until this other issues are addressed.

    Oh, and ask a teacher who shows up to parent-teacher conferences, and who are the active parents. I bet you’d find that those with higher family income, educational attainment, etc. are more likely to be active participants in their child’s education.

    This issue is too important for silly layers of MORE administration. Programs like Brother to Brother Mentoring Program, and President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance are better ideas to support and work with to address this deficiency.

    When I read, “Our first recommendation is the appointment of an Assistant Superintendent of Equity and Achievement to serve in the Montclair Superintendent’s cabinet.” I know, while committed I’m sure, this Panel won’t touch the root issues, and nothing will change.

  38. Prof, I was exceptionally careful to look at the outcomes. If 30% of Montclair’s minority kids are reading below grade level, that needs to end. Whether that means Summer schools, intensive reading skills development in grades 1-2-3-4 etc, or differently enabled teachers is way above my pay grade.

    An intensive focus on reading and math skills would seem to be an exceptionally important initial step in helping kids survive in today’s demanding environment.

    And, I’m amazed that kids are passed up the line without the skills to meet the grade level requirements. Whether this is the result of a central office directive (don’t hold back kids), or a teacher issue (just pass them and let somebody else fix the problem next year)

    Whether the learning deficiency is created by socioeconomic problems or not would seem to be a red herring. Fix the problem with intensive teaching, summer schools, hold backs if necessary, and get the kids up to grade level. Making excuses doesn’t help. There have been too many excuses already.

  39. I was just pointing out that two general patterns don;t make a right. Anyway, a very happy Father’s Day to you.

  40. A few things here.

    1) Throw more money at more reports and more central office staff? C’mon, really? Is that the best they can do? The achievement gap is by no means unique to Montclair and addressing it does not involve rocket science.

    2) I was watching a YouTube video today and saw a commercial for “Montclair Kids First.” That seriously scared me. They targeted me on Youtube? Why is MKF, with such deep pockets that it can advertise on YouTube, so intent on attacking our schools? We moved here because we believe in these schools. If they want charter schools, wouldn’t it be so much easier to just go to Texas or to parts of Jersey that are more Red than Blue? Why here? That video scared me deeply.

  41. A red herring? Family income and family educational attainment has ALWAYS played a part in how kid’s do in school.

    Unfortunately, your ideas have been tried, and mostly failed because whatever the schools do, poor kids still go home poor. And that means they are more likely than not to have a parent forcing them to do their work, help with their work, and sadly, even know what the work is.

    I agree with you that we can do more: (mandatory for some, optional for everyone) peer-to-peer mentoring programs, after school study groups, etc. are easy to manage, won’t cost a lot and directly combat the real cause of the so-called Achievement Gap.

    A new “cabinet level” management position will do nothing! Use that money for simpler, direct programs for our students in need.

    NYTimes story:

    Here’s a book chapter by a Stanford researcher on the subject:

    Here’s a NYTimes Op-Ed by the same Stanford researcher:

  42. Take the time to read to your children and you will reap life long benefits. Do outreach in the early years and offer free parenting classes on those kind of basics that provide support outside the classroom. A child who doesn’t struggle with the simple things is much more comfortable taking on more difficult tasks.

  43. profwilliams,

    My comment yesterday seems to stuck in moderation for some reason. It doesn’t matter.
    My point is that we are not going to eliminate the AG, but we can reduce it by things MPS does directly control. The fact is that about 100, or 1 in 5 3rd Graders are not at grade level reading and writing by the end of the year. Blacks are more than double (54) than whites (24) and hispanics (19). But, no matter how you slice it racially, it is a startling number. To paolo’s point, I do not know what is done to address this shortfall in our 8 year olds. It is a question that should have been addressed in the AGAP presentation.

    It is also bothersome that there is an 85 student discrepancy between the minority student counts in the presentation and what the district reported. It’s hard to figure out why because the slides were not labeled well as to the years they were pulling data and some mixing of data years is likely.

  44. Yes. I agree…

    And at the risk of being banned, or having this comment not blessed by Baristanet, this new moderating system is terrible. What was once a free flowing exchange of ideas centered on our community is now a… laggy, out of sequence string of ideas that have no flow.

    Perhaps this is a result of some whose feelings were hurt by others who had different ideas. SHOCK!! GASP!!! Yes. It’s possible that someone might be just as passionate as you, but with the opposing view. And SHOCK!!! They might be wittier or more upset with your point of view.

    It seems the crying folks win.

    And we’re stuck with offering comments, and watching as it sometimes takes well over an hour for it to appear. So while I think we are in the middle of an informative discussion, Baristanet, which used to help these discussion, now seems to be in the way.

  45. I’m already two days late in starting my annual Summer sabbatical from the education threads here. Maybe my soon-to-be absence will provide some relief.

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