New Jersey school children show big gains

Posted by Michael Holzman
Rising test scores in New Jersey schools offer strong evidence of what students can achieve when given adequate resources to learn.

Following the Abbott v. Burke legal rulings, New Jersey became the first state to fund urban schools to bring their quality up to par with successful suburban schools. The state put $240 million in new money into struggling urban schools, created tough new curriculum standards, and established a network of free high-quality pre-schools.

The results have been dramatic. In Newark, the state’s largest school district, 67.6 percent of fourth-graders tested as “proficient” or above on the state’s language arts test in 2007-08. This compares with 19.7 percent of fourth-graders in 1998-99. Similar gains were demonstrated at other elementary schools in the 31 districts that took part in the lawsuit.

Also in Newark, the graduation rate among black males jumped dramatically. Seventy-five percent of Newark’s black males graduated on-time in 2008, compared to 47 percent in 2002. This contrasts sharply with the national graduation rate for black males of 47 percent.

The transformation got its start in 1981 when poor urban school districts sued the State of New Jersey. Represented by the Education Law Center, the districts made the case that their high dropout rates and low achievement levels were the result of disparate funding and programs, high poverty rates and low property wealth in the “Abbott districts,” which denied children an equal opportunity to an adequate education.

A new framework for “education adequacy” emerged from the New Jersey legislature following the court rulings. For more about the Abbott reforms and their outcomes, go to the Education Law Center’s website at

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