Share |

The Current State of New Brunswick's Public Schools

Most City Schools Considered to Be "Significantly Lagging" Behind Their Peers
Redshaw Warehouse
The students of A. Chester Redshaw Elementary School have been stuck in a temporary warehouse school for seven years. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Among the hot topics at a candidate forum for today's school board election were the quality of the New Brunswick Public Schools, both in their physical condition and academic rankings.

New Brunswick has a total of seven elementary schools, one middle school, one K-8 community school, and two high schools.  However, the statistics of both schools are combined

One of the district's elementary schools, A. Redshaw Elementary, was temporarily re-located, and then torn down.  The original location on Livingston Avenue once served as the city's high school, then an elementary school until it was demolished in 2006.

That school's website says, "A. C. Redshaw was moved to a temporary 'swing space' facility with the expectation and promise that a brand new, state of the art school would be built on Redshaw’s Livingston Avenue site, within walking distance from the heart of culturally rich downtown New Brunswick.”

Seven years later, Redshaw Elementary students still assemble at the temporary facility, a warehouse on Van Dyke Avenue, every day for classes.

Patricia Sadowski, a longtime school board member running to keep her seat for the first time, commented on the status of Redshaw elementary in her introductory remarks in the forum:

"My goal, if you choose to re-elect me to be on the board, is to finish one of the biggest projects and that is Redshaw School.  They are starting with the foothills, take a peak up there, [and] see what they are doing.  And I check it out at least once a week."

The previous renovation project to occur, in regards to New Brunswick Public Schools, was the construction of the current New Brunswick High School building, which opened up on January 4, 2010.

The building, which took 3 years to complete, contains many facilities to accommodate the growing numbers of high school attendants.

According to the New Brunswick Educational Fund website:

"It was designed to maximize space and be flexible enough that every area can have an instructional purpose. The two-and three-story school has four academic wings and a science area, plus a 660-seat cafeteria, a 1,000-seat auditorium and a 2,000-seat gymnasium."

Aside from the physical conditions of the local public schools, the academic condition of the city was also a main focus of the open panel.

New Brunswick Public Schools, on the elementary and secondary level, are notorious for their low academic results within the county, the state, and in a new "peer group" that state officials began using this year.

Pre-K to 5 (Elementary)
Out of the six elementary schools, four have been labeled as "focus" schools by  the State of New Jersey’s Department of Education: Redshaw, Livingston, Lord Sterling, and Roosevelt

"Focus Schools comprise about 10% of schools with the overall lowest subgroup performance, a graduation rate below 75% and the widest gaps in achievement between different subgroups of students.  Focus Schools receive targeted and tailored solutions to meet the school's unique needs."

The remaining schools, Lincoln and Paul Robeson, have no available classification on their yearly report card.

However, they demonstrate similar results as the others, being described as "significantly lagging" in either their peer or state rankings.

In the annual NJ School Performance Report, available through the Department of Education website, NJASK (New Jersey Assessments of Skills and Knowledge) exam statistics are provided.

Three conventions are used– “partially proficient”, “proficient”, and “advanced” to describe the percent of New Brunswick 4th graders scoring in literature, math, and science within their respective class.

The Peer and State ranking percentiles of the entire school compared to are also included in the chart.

Below are the results gathered from the 2012 NJ School Performance Report:

Language Arts - 4th Grade
School
Partial Prof.
Proficiency
Advanced
Peer Ranking
State Ranking
Redshaw
66%
34%
0%
41%
9%
Lincoln
79%
21%
0%
6%
2%
Livingston
75%
25%
0%
52%
10%
Lord Stirling
68%
32%
0%
18%
4%
Paul Robeson
69%
31%
0%
24%
6%
Roosevelt
70%
30%
0%
29%
7%
 
Math - 4th Grade
School
Partial Prof.
Proficiency
Advanced
Peer Ranking
State Ranking
Redshaw
32%
53%
15%
41%
9%
Lincoln
53%
45%
1%
6%
2%
Livingston
43%
45%
12%
52%
10%
Lord Stirling
47%
47%
6%
18%
4%
Paul Robeson
40%
54%
6%
24%
6%
Roosevelt
37%
52%
11%
29%
7%
 
Science - 4th Grade 
 
 
School
Partial Prof.
Proficiency
Advanced
Peer Ranking
State Ranking
Redshaw
18%
56%
26%
41%
9%
Lincoln
29%
63%
8%
6%
2%
Livingston
7%
78%
15%
52%
10%
Lord Stirling
20%
67%
14%
18%
4%
Paul Robeson
31%
52%
17%
24%
6%
Roosevelt
27%
56%
17%
29%
7%

Looking at these results, it is clear that the majority of the students tend not to score into the “advanced” category. 

When tested on language arts and reading, a large portion of the students score under “partial proficiency”, with the literal remainder under “proficient”.

According to the 2012 Middlesex County Needs Assessment (MCNA), provided for the Puerto Rican Action Board (PRAB, Inc.) by the Rutgers School of Social work, presents a comparison with of the schools by district.

Using statistics from the previous year, “The Percentage of 4th graders who scored proficient in language arts ranged from 28.6% in New Brunswick to 87.7% in South Amboy.”

In Math and Science exams, the students are more dispersed in their scoring, showing more improvement.

However, when analyzing the full performance report for each school, and comparing the current year’s results with previous years, not much of a large improvement can be seen over time.

The MCNA points out that “the percentage of 4th graders who scored proficient in math ranged from 51.5% in New Brunswick to 98.6% in Cranbury,” making New Brunswick the lowest district in Middlesex county.

Roosevelt has also been labeled as having the lowest subgroup performance.

Middle Schools
New Brunswick Middle School, along with McKinley and Woodrow Wilson (both of which are technically Pre-K to 8), also show similar trends to their elementary counterparts.

McKinley is classified as a "focus" school, while Woodrow Wilson lacks information on where it is categorized. 

New Brunswick Middle School, however, is listed as a "priority" school, meaning that it falls under 5% of Title I schools within the State of New Jersey.

Below are statistics of 8th grade NJASK 2011-12 results from the three schools in the language arts, math, and science.

Language Arts - 8th Grade
School
Partial Prof.
Proficient
Advanced
Peer Rank
State Rank
McKinley
72%
28%
0%
41%
13%
NBMS
50%
49%
1%
27%
6%
W. Wilson
16%
79%
5%
33%
27%
 
Math - 8th Grade
School
Partial Prof.
Proficient
Advanced
Peer Rank
State Rank
McKinley
55%
38%
6%
41%
13%
NBMS
65%
29%
6%
27%
6%
W. Wilson
33%
52%
14%
33%
27%
 
Science - 8th Grade
School
Partial Prof.
Proficient
Advanced
Peer Rank
State Rank
McKinley
31%
58%
11%
41%
13%
NBMS
47%
49%
4%
27%
6%
W. Wilson
14%
72%
14%
33%
27%

Again, the trend of the majority of students scoring more in the “partial” category is apparent, although there seems to be more improvement among the science scores.

What is interesting is Woodrow Wilson’s scores, which tend to be better than their peers.  However, in terms of peer and state ranking, they appear on the lower percentiles that seem to be common among New Brunswick Public Schools.

Woodrow Wilson also contains the least amount of students enrolled in New Brunswick – 437 in 2012, compared to New Brunswick Middle School, which has 1180 students.

These testing scores, much like the elementary results, also have a negative effect on the city’s district standings.

The MCNA reports that “The percentage of 8th graders who scored proficient in language arts ranged from 51.4% in New Brunswick to 97.2% in Cranbury….[and] who scored proficient in math ranged from 35.3% in New Brunswick to 97% in Cranbury.”

This makes New Brunswick the lowest district in Middlesex County in terms of language and mathematical ability.

High Schools
New Brunswick's elementary and middle schools are not the only ones that provide substandard academic results on a yearly basis. 

With 1,540 students enrolled in 2012, New Brunswick High School has the lowest scores when it comes to the same assessments.

Below are New Brunswick’s High School’s results:

New Brunswick High School
Subject
Partial Prof.
Proficient
Advanced
Peer Rank
State Rank
Language
20%
75%
5%
37%
12%
Math
38%
51%
11%
37%
12%
Biology
73%
25%
2%
37%
12%

These results, as well as those from the previous years, places the district dead last in the county.

The MCNA again shows "the percentage of 11th graders who scored proficient in language arts ranged from 70.7% in New Brunswick to 98.2% at Woodbridge High School."  In math, New Brunswick ranked a disappointing 48.7% compared to Woodbridge’s 94.3%.

Proficiency assessments are not the only academic concern regarding New Brunswick High School.

The home of the New Brunswick Zebras holds the record for the lowest graduation rate in the county, with 68.8% in 2010, 58.8% in 2011, and 59%* in 2012.

The incumbent candidates face a challenge 

The State of New Jersey graduation rate in 2012 being 75%, placing the high school well below the median.

Dropout rates are also problematic in the high school.  According to the annual performance report on, the state aims to keep their high schools under a 2% dropout rate. 

New Brunswick High School has a dropout rate of 7.1% and is considered to have the lowest subgroup performance amongst its peers. 

Future Action

With the disconcerting results that New Brunswick Public Schools have produced over time, the candidates in today's  election have much to say on the issue of the institution’s current state, specifically the application of their current curriculum.

When asked about reviewing the curriculum during the forum, School Board incumbent Benito Ortiz responded by stating:

"This kind of Board of Education revises the curriculum every year.  We take information provided by the principals of all the schools.  We look at what the proficiencies [examinations] are and we revise.  We currently have a revision plan for the next five years to improve various problems."

John Krenos, another incumbent and Rutgers University Chemistry Professor, said that an issue with the current program "is implementation…that is at the local level, that's at the school level so we got to make sure that the teachers are buying into the new curriculum and that it is being taught the way we actually intended."

On the other hand, another perspective was presented by challenger Stephanie Rivera, of the "Yes We Can Coalition."

Rivera, a current Rutgers student in the Department of Education, commented on the New Brunswick curriculum and current state of academics:

"One thing I think that is missing in many districts that I think would be very helpful is addressing what the students have to say as well as some of the teachers."

Polls are open today from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m.  Please visit NewBrunswickToday.com for up-to-date election results this evening.

Editor's Note: The author of this article is a supporter of the candidacy of Sean Monahan, who is the co-founder of this publication.